Proteomics has exposed a plethora of posttranslational modifications, but demonstrating functional relevance requires new approaches. Top-down proteomics of intact proteins has the potential to fully characterize protein modifications in terms of amount, site(s), and the order in which they are deposited on the protein; information that so far has been elusive to extract by shotgun proteomics. Data acquisition and analysis of intact multimodified proteins have however been a major challenge, in particular for positional isomers that carry the same number of modifications at different sites. Solutions were previously proposed to extract this information from fragmentation spectra, but these have so far mainly been limited to peptides and have entailed a large degree of manual interpretation. Here, we apply high-resolution Orbitrap fusion top-down analyses in combination with bioinformatics approaches to attempt to characterize multiple modified proteins and quantify positional isomers. Automated covalent fragment ion type definition, detection of mass precision and accuracy, and extensive use of replicate spectra increase sequence coverage and drive down false fragment assignments from 10% to 1.5%. Such improved performance in fragment assignment is key to localize and quantify modifications from fragment spectra. The method is tested by investigating positional isomers of Ubiquitin mixed in known concentrations, which results in quantification of high ratios at very low standard errors of the mean (<5%), as well as with synthetic phosphorylated peptides. Application to multiphosphorylated Bora provides an estimation of the so far unknown stoichiometry of the known set of phosphosites and uncovers new sites from hyperphosphorylated Bora.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100070
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalMolecular and Cellular Proteomics
Early online date1 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Top-down mass spectrometry
  • phosphorylation
  • positional isomers
  • ETD
  • Bora


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