The identification of circulating biomarkers holds great potential for non invasive approaches in early diagnosis and prognosis, as well as for the monitoring of therapeutic efficiency.1-3 The circulating low molecular weight proteome (LMWP) composed of small proteins shed from tissues and cells or peptide fragments derived from the proteolytic degradation of larger proteins, has been associated with the pathological condition in patients and likely reflects the state of disease.4,5 Despite these potential clinical applications, the use of Mass Spectrometry (MS) to profile the LMWP from biological fluids has proven to be very challenging due to the large dynamic range of protein and peptide concentrations in serum.6 Without sample pre-treatment, some of the more highly abundant proteins obscure the detection of low-abundance species in serum/plasma. Current proteomic-based approaches, such as two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel-electrophoresis (2D-PAGE) and shotgun proteomics methods are labor-intensive, low throughput and offer limited suitability for clinical applications.7-9 Therefore, a more effective strategy is needed to isolate LMWP from blood and allow the high throughput screening of clinical samples.
Here, we present a fast, efficient and reliable multi-fractionation system based on mesoporous silica chips to specifically target and enrich LMWP.10,11 Mesoporous silica (MPS) thin films with tunable features at the nanoscale were fabricated using the triblock copolymer template pathway. Using different polymer templates and polymer concentrations in the precursor solution, various pore size distributions, pore structures, connectivity and surface properties were determined and applied for selective recovery of low mass proteins. The selective parsing of the enriched peptides into different subclasses according to their physicochemical properties will enhance the efficiency of recovery and detection of low abundance species. In combination with mass spectrometry and statistic analysis, we demonstrated the correlation between the nanophase characteristics of the mesoporous silica thin films and the specificity and efficacy of low mass proteome harvesting. The results presented herein reveal the potential of the nanotechnology-based technology to provide a powerful alternative to conventional methods for LMWP harvesting from complex biological fluids. Because of the ability to tune the material properties, the capability for low-cost production, the simplicity and rapidity of sample collection, and the greatly reduced sample requirements for analysis, this novel nanotechnology will substantially impact the field of proteomic biomarker research and clinical proteomic assessment.
Keywords: Bioengineering, Issue 62, Nanoporous silica chip, Low molecular weight proteomics, Peptidomics, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, early diagnostics, proteomics