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Affinity enrichment for mass spectrometry: improving the yield of low abundance biomarkers

Expert Review of Proteomics, 2018

Introduction: Mass spectrometry (MS) is the premier tool for discovering novel disease-associated protein biomarkers. Unfortunately, when applied to complex body fluid samples, MS has poor sensitivity for the detection of low abundance biomarkers (≪10 ng/mL), derived directly from the diseased tissue cells or pathogens.

Areas covered: Herein we discuss the strengths and drawbacks of technologies used to concentrate low abundance analytes in body fluids, with the aim to improve the effective sensitivity for MS discovery. Solvent removal by dry-down or dialysis, and immune-depletion of high abundance serum or plasma proteins, is shown to have disadvantages compared to positive selection of the candidate biomarkers by affinity enrichment. A theoretical analysis of affinity enrichment reveals that the yield for low abundance biomarkers is a direct function of the binding affinity (Association/Dissociation rates) used for biomarker capture. In addition, a high affinity capture pre processing step can effectively dissociate the candidate biomarker from partitioning with high abundance proteins such as albumin.

Expert commentary: Properly designed high affinity capture materials can enrich the yield of low abundance (0.1–10 picograms/mL) candidate biomarkers for MS detection. Affinity capture and concentration, as an upfront step in sample preparation for MS, combined with MS advances in software and hardware that improve the resolution of the chromatographic separation can yield a transformative new class of low abundance biomarkers predicting disease risk or disease latency.

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