Metallomics approach for the identification of the iron transport protein transferrin in the blood of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina)


The health status of marine mammals such as harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) represents an indirect but powerful way for the assessment of environmental changes. The present work illustrates the first investigation and characterisation of Tf isolated from blood samples of North Sea harbour seals with a view to using changes in Tf isoform patterns as an additional parameter in extended studies of their health status. Therefore, an HPLC-ICP-MS approach has been developed which allows the highly resolved separation and fractionation of up to eight different Tf isoforms, as well as their sensitive and specific detection on the basis of their characteristic iron content. Molecule-specific detection techniques such as nanoLC-ESI-QTRAP-MS or MALDI-TOF-MS were used as complementary techniques to unambiguously identify the isolated proteins as Tf via cross species protein identification and to further characterise the molecular weight as well as the sialic acid content, which is responsible for the elution behaviour of the different isoforms during their ion exchange separation. A molecular mass above 80 kDa has been measured for the different seal Tf isoforms, which is in good agreement with the known molecular mass in other mammalian species, while the estimated pI of the different isoforms indicates some differences in comparison to other species. A number of homologies to known Tf sequences have been observed, which finally allows the cross species protein identification. The combined metallomics orientated analytical approach, which includes the complementary application of element and molecule-specific detection techniques, opens up interesting possibilities for the fast and targeted isolation and identification of a diagnostically relevant metal containing protein from an un-sequenced mammalian species prior to its utilisation in extended studies.
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