Fast and selective modification of thiol proteins/peptides by N-(phenylseleno) phthalimide

Zhengfang Wang, Yun Zhang, Hao Zhang, Peter B. Harrington, Hao Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We previously reported that selenamide reagents such as ebselen and N-(phenylseleno) phthalimide (NPSP) can be used to selectively derivatize thiols for mass spectrometric analysis, and the introduced selenium tags are useful as they could survive or removed with collisioninduced dissociation (CID). Described herein is the further study of the reactivity of various protein/peptide thiols toward NPSP and its application to derivatize thiol peptides in protein digests. With a modified protocol (i.e., dissolving NPSP in acetonitrile instead of aqueous solvent), we found that quantitative conversion of thiols can be obtained in seconds, using NPSP in a slight excess amount (NPSP:thiol of 1.1-2:1). Further investigation shows that the thiol reactivity toward NPSP reflects its chemical environment and accessibility in proteins/peptides. For instance, adjacent basic amino acid residues increase the thiol reactivity, probably because they could stabilize the thiolate form to facilitate the nucleophilic attack of thiol on NPSP. In the case of creatine phosphokinase, the native protein predominately has one thiol reacted with NPSP while all of four thiol groups of the denatured protein can be derivatized, in accordance with the corresponding protein conformation. In addition, thiol peptides in protein/peptide enzymatic digests can be quickly and effectively tagged by NPSP following tri-n-butylphosphine (TBP) reduction. Notably, all three thiols of the peptide QCCASVCSL in the insulin peptic digest can be modified simultaneously by NPSP. These results suggest a novel and selective method for protecting thiols in the bottom-up approach for protein structure analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-529
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Spectroscopy


  • Derivatization
  • Mass spectrometry
  • N-(phenylseleno)phthalimide
  • Reactivity
  • Thiol protein/peptide


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