RNA-protein complexes play pivotal roles in many central biological processes. Although methods based on high-throughput sequencing have advanced our ability to identify the specific RNAs bound by a particular protein, there is a need for precise and systematic ways to identify RNA interaction sites on proteins. We have developed an experimental and computational workflow combining photo-induced cross-linking, high-resolution mass spectrometry and automated analysis of the resulting mass spectra for the identification of cross-linked peptides, cross-linking sites and the cross-linked RNA oligonucleotide moieties of such RNA-binding proteins. The workflow can be applied to any RNA-protein complex of interest or to whole proteomes. We applied the approach to human and yeast mRNA-protein complexes in vitro and in vivo, demonstrating its powerful utility by identifying 257 cross-linking sites on 124 distinct RNA-binding proteins. The open-source software pipeline developed for this purpose, RNPxl, is available as part of the OpenMS project.
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We dedicate this article to the memory of our colleague and friend Andreas Bertsch. The authors thank M. Raabe, U. Pleßmann and T. Conrad for technical assistance, U. Zaman for providing unpublished data, R. Hofele for helpful discussions, R. Lührmann for support and providing infrastructure, S. Klinge for help with the yeast ribosome structure in PyMol, and S. Aiche and C. Bielow for discussions on workflow implementation. This work was supported by a German Research Foundation (DFG) grant to H.U. (SFB860, INST 186/859-1), a Higher Education Commission, Pakistan (HEC)/German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) stipend to S.Q., funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC-2011-ADG_20110310 to M.W.H. and a Marie Curie Fellowship (FP7/2007-2013)/MC-IEF-301031 to B.M.B.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Integrated supplementary information
The raw data, e.g. in Thermo’s raw format, is converted by the appropriate external data conversion tool, e.g. msconvert, into the open mzML format. Next, data in profile mode is centroided. Finally, the data of the control experiment is aligned relative to that of the UV irradiated sample to correct for retention time (RT) shifts. The data preparation steps yield the centroided data of the UV irradiation experiment in mzML format and the aligned, centroided data of the control experiment.
The sample data is submitted into the ID filter pipeline. Here, a search is performed against the target-decoy version of a protein database containing the proteome of the species of interest as well as contaminant sequences. Peptides below a certain false discovery rate (FDR; default 1%) are considered as good matches and reported in an idXML file. Corresponding MS/MS spectra are removed from the mzML file. Next, the RNPxlXICFilter tool automatically screens whether the precursors of remaining MS/MS spectra also appear in the non-irradiated control. To this end, extracted ion chromatograms of those precursors are calculated in UV and control sample. MS/MS spectra of precursors appearing in both samples with comparable intensities, i.e. less than double in the UV sample, are not written into the output mzML file.
First, spectra of small precursors and those corresponding to short RNA oligonucleotides according to their fractional mass are filtered from the input mzML file. Next, the masses for all possible nucleotide combinations as defined in the tool’s parameters are calculated and subsequently subtracted from all precursor masses to yield the precursor mass variants. One mzML file for each spectrum is created, containing the original experimental precursor mass as well as all its precursor mass variants together with the unaltered MS/MS fragment information. These are submitted into the database search engine. Then, the tool summarizes the search results, retaining the best scoring hit per spectrum and annotates the cross-linked RNA moiety according to the mass difference between experimental precursor mass and the precursor mass variant that gave rise to the database search result. Finally, the results are summarized in csv and idXML format.
Supplementary Figure 4 Alignment of RRM motifs of human proteins in which cross-linked peptides have been identified.
Proteins are identified by their gene names. The corresponding recommended protein names can be found in Supplementary Table 1. The number of the respective RRM and the positions of the first and the last residue within the RRM are given next to the sequences. The RNP2 and RNP1 consensus sequences marked with light gray, with conserved aromatic residues in dark gray. Peptides found cross-linked to RNA are underlined, cross-linked regions are highlighted in yellow. If the cross-linked amino acid was identified from the MS/MS fragment spectrum it is shown in red. Overall, eleven cross-linked residues align with the conserved aromatic residues in the RNP2 and RNP1 consensus sequences that are frequently connected to direct protein–RNA contacts.
Supplementary Figure 5 Alignment of KH motifs of human proteins in which cross-linked peptides have been identified.
Proteins are identified by their gene names, the corresponding recommended protein names can be found in Supplementary Table 1. The number of the respective KH and the positions of the first and the last residue within the KH are given next to the sequences. The consensus VIGXXGXXI map is marked with light gray. Peptides found cross-linked to RNA are underlined, cross-linked regions are highlighted in yellow, if the MS/MS fragment spectrum allowed to narrow down the cross-linking site to a single amino acid residue is shown in red.
Supplementary Figure 6 Alignment of RRM motifs of yeast proteins in which cross-linked peptides have been identified after isolation with TAP purification of Cbp20.
More precisely, alignment of RRM1 and RRM2 of Nucleolar protein 3 (NPL3), RRM2 of Nucleolar protein 13 (NOP13), RRM4 of Polyadenylate-binding protein (PAB1), and RRM2 of Single-stranded nucleic-acid binding protein (SBP1). Positions of the first and the last residue within the RRM are given next to the sequences. All RRMs show good alignment to the RNP2 and RNP1 consensus sequences marked with light gray, with conserved aromatic residues in dark gray. Peptides found cross-linked to RNA are underlined, cross-linked regions are highlighted in yellow; if the cross-linked amino acid was identified from the MS/MS fragment spectrum it is shown in red. Cross-linking in RRM1 of Npl3 occurred through a phenylalanine residue; however the spectrum (Spectrum Y12 in Supplementary Data) does not allow distinguishing whether Phe160, Phe162, or Phe165 is the actual cross-linked amino acid. Phe160 and Phe162 as well as Phe242 of Nop13 and Phe325 of Pab1 correspond to conserved aromatic residues in the respective consensus sequences.
Proteins are identified by their gene names, the corresponding recommended protein names can be found in Supplementary Table 3. The number of the respective RRM and the positions of the first and the last residue within the RRM are given next to the sequences. The RNP2 and RNP1 consensus sequences marked with light gray, with conserved aromatic residues in dark gray. Peptides found cross-linked to RNA are underlined, cross-linked regions are highlighted in yellow, if the cross-linked amino acid was identified from the MS/MS fragment spectrum it is shown in red.
Proteins are identified by their gene names, the corresponding recommended protein names can be found in Supplementary Table 3. The number of the respective KH and the positions of the first and the last residue within the KH are given next to the sequences. The consensus VIGXXGXXI map is marked with light gray. Peptides found cross-linked to RNA are underlined, cross-linked regions are highlighted in yellow, if the MS/MS fragment spectrum allowed to narrow down the cross-linking site to a single amino acid residue is shown in red.
Dependencies are shown for each cross-linking experiment – (a) human RNPs, (b) yeast RNPs isolated with TAP purification of Cbp20, (c) yeast RNPs labeled with 4SU and isolated with oligo d(T). The order of cross-linked (oligo)nucleotides from left to right is first depending on increasing length and then on decreasing number of observed cross-links. (a) Around 31% of cross-links (58 of the total 189) were observed to a single U, which corresponds to 82% (49 of the total 60) of the cross-linking sites/regions identified. At least one modification of U, i.e. loss of water, and two dinucleotides (AU and UU) have to be considered to identify 59 of the 60 identified cross-linking sites/regions. (b) [U –H2O] is the most common RNA moiety, found in 25 cross-links (14%) and 21 unique cross-linking sites/regions (33% of the total results). In contrast to human, a much larger number of RNA combinations and modifications has to be taken into account to identify the cross-linking sites/regions reported in this study. (c) All cross-links to 4SU were observed with a net loss of H2S from the RNA. By taking into account a single 4SU as well as all dinucleotides of the cross-linked 4SU and the four native nucleotides, 269 of the 376 cross-links (72%) and 125 of the 133 unique cross-linking sites/regions (94%) could be identified. Overall, considering only a single nucleotide would only permit identification of 14-33% of the reported cross-links and 33-82% of the reported cross-linking sites/regions in the respective experiments, illustrating the benefit of the precursor variant approach over conventional database search treating one (or a few) cross-linked RNA moieties as a post-translational modification.
The right panel shows the chromatogram of a UV irradiated sample, the left panel a chromatogram of a non-irradiated control. Absorption at 254 nm (red) and 280 nm (blue) were monitored. Fractions and elution time are indicated on the bottom. Fractions #3–#5 were further processed for subsequent LC-MS/MS analysis. No absorbance differences in the chromatograms between control and cross-linked sample are observed as previously described by Urlaub et al.1
1. Urlaub, H., Kruft, V., Bischof, O., Muller, E.C. & Wittmann-Liebold, B. Protein-rRNA binding features and their structural and functional implications in ribosomes as determined by cross-linking studies. EMBO J 14, 4578-4588 (1995).
Supplementary Figures 1–10, Supplementary Note and Supplementary Data (PDF 14582 kb)
Cross-links of human RNPs. Detailed information about cross-links from human RNPs including protein and gene names, cross-link composition and positions, experimental and calculated masses, as well as a comparison to other MS-based cross-linking studies. (XLSX 59 kb)
Cross-links of yeast RNPs. Detailed information about cross-links from yeast RNPs including protein and gene names, cross-link composition and positions, experimental and calculated masses, as well as a comparison to other MS-based cross-linking studies. (XLSX 56 kb)
Cross-links of yeast RNPs to 4-thio-U substituted RNA. Detailed information about yeast RNPs cross-linked to 4SU substituted RNA including protein and gene names, cross-link composition and positions, experimental and calculated masses, as well as a comparison to other MS-based cross-linking studies. (XLSX 93 kb)
Comparison of cross-link identification by presented approach and common database search engines. Identification of all cross-links of human RNPs to a single U nucleotide is compared between the approach described in this work and the common database search engines OMSSA and Mascot. (XLSX 157 kb)
Comparison of cross-links found in unsubstituted yeast (pre-)mRNPs and 4-thio-U labelled yeast mRNPs. Cross-links identified in both yeast systems are compared on both protein and cross-linking region or site level. (XLSX 96 kb)
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Kramer, K., Sachsenberg, T., Beckmann, B. et al. Photo-cross-linking and high-resolution mass spectrometry for assignment of RNA-binding sites in RNA-binding proteins. Nat Methods 11, 1064–1070 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.3092
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