Old proteins and the Achilles heel of mass spectrometry. The role of proteomics in the etiology of human cataract
Proteomics may have enabled the root cause of a major human-blinding condition, age-related cataract, to be established. Cataract appears to result from the spontaneous decomposition of long-lived macromolecules in the human lens, and recent proteomic analysis has enabled both the particular crystallins, and the specific sites of amino acid modification within each polypeptide, to be identified. Analysis of proteins from cataract lenses has demonstrated that there are key sites on some structural proteins that show a consistently greater degree of deterioration than age-matched normal lenses. Proteomic analysis, using MS, revealed that the most abundant posttranslational modification of aged lens proteins is racemization. This is somewhat ironic, since structural isomers can be viewed as the "Achilles heel" of MS and there are typically few, if any, differences in the MS/MS spectra of tryptic peptides containing one d-amino acid. It is proposed that once a certain level of spontaneous PTM at key sites occurs, that protein-protein interactions are disrupted, and binding of complexes to cell membranes takes place that impairs cell-to-cell communication. These findings may apply more widely to age-related human diseases, in particular where the deterioration of long-lived proteins is a crucial component in the etiology.