Middle-down proteomics reveals dense sites of methylation and phosphorylation in arginine-rich RNA-binding proteins
Arginine (Arg)-rich RNA-binding proteins play an integral role in RNA metabolism. Post-translational modifications (PTMs) within Arg-rich domains, such as phosphorylation and methylation, regulate multiple steps in RNA metabolism. However, the identification of PTMs within Arg-rich domains with complete trypsin digestion is extremely challenging due to the high density of Arg residues within these proteins. Here, we report a middle-down proteomic approach coupled with electron transfer dissociation (ETD) mass spectrometry to map previously unknown sites of phosphorylation and methylation within the Arg-rich domains of U1-70K and structurally similar RNA-binding proteins from nuclear extracts of HEK293 cells. Remarkably, the Arg-rich domains in RNA-binding proteins are densely modified by methylation and phosphorylation compared with the remainder of the proteome, with di-methylation and phosphorylation favoring RSRS motifs. Although they favor a common motif, analysis of combinatorial PTMs within RSRS motifs indicate that phosphorylation and methylation do not often co-occur, suggesting they may functionally oppose one another. Collectively, these findings suggest that the level of PTMs within Arg-rich domains may be among the highest in the proteome, and a possible unexplored regulator of RNA metabolism. These data also serve as a resource to facilitate future mechanistic studies of the role of PTMs in RNA-binding protein structure and function.
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