Chemical Approaches to Investigate Labile Peptide and Protein Phosphorylation
A. Hauser, M. Penkert, C.P.R. Hackenberger – 2017
Protein phosphorylation is by far the most abundant and most studied post-translational modification (PTM). For a long time, phosphate monoesters of serine (pSer), threonine (pThr), and tyrosine (pTyr) have been considered as the only relevant forms of phosphorylation in organisms. Recently, several research groups have dedicated their efforts to the investigation of other, less characterized phosphoamino acids as naturally occurring PTMs. Such apparent peculiar phosphorylations include the phosphoramidates of histidine (pHis), arginine (pArg), and lysine (pLys), the phosphorothioate of cysteine (pCys), and the anhydrides of pyrophosphorylated serine (ppSer) and threonine (ppThr). Almost all of these phosphorylated amino acids show higher lability under physiological conditions than those of phosphate monoesters. Furthermore, they are prone to hydrolysis under acidic and sometimes basic conditions as well as at elevated temperatures, which renders their synthetic accessibility and proteomic analysis particularly challenging. In this Account, we illustrate recent chemical approaches to probe the occurrence and function of these labile phosphorylation events. Within these endeavors, the synthesis of site-selectively phosphorylated peptides, in particular in combination with chemoselective phosphorylation strategies, was crucial. With these well-defined standards in hand, the appropriate proteomic mass spectrometry-based analysis protocols for the characterization of labile phosphosites in biological samples could be developed. Another successful approach in this research field includes the design and synthesis of stable analogues of these labile PTMs, which were used for the generation of pHis- and pArg-specific antibodies for the detection and enrichment of endogenous phosphorylated samples. Finally, other selective enrichment techniques are described, which rely for instance on the unique chemical environment of a pyrophosphate or the selective interaction between a phosphoamino acid and its phosphatase. It is worth noting that many of those studies are still in their early stages, which is also reflected in the small number of identified phosphosites compared to that of phosphate monoesters. Thus, many challenges need to be mastered to fully understand the biological role of these poorly characterized and rather uncommon phosphorylations. Taken together, this overview exemplifies recent efforts in a flourishing field of functional proteomic analysis and furthermore manifests the power of modern peptide synthesis to address unmet questions in the life sciences.