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A direct approach to quantification of the cellular uptake of cell-penetrating peptides using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry


This protocol allows the accurate quantification of cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) cellular uptake by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization–time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). Quantification is based on the use of an internal standard with same chemical structure as the analyte but labeled with a stable isotope. The analyte and the standard can both be obtained by standard solid-phase peptide synthesis using commercially available amino acids. They are functionalized by biotin to allow their easy purification before MALDI-TOF MS analysis. The method allows determination of the amount of intact internalized peptide and the identification of potential intracellular digests. It can be used to simultaneously compare the uptake of several peptides, and can also be applied to the quantification of peptidic cargoes and the study of their intracellular stability. It is therefore a potent tool to study the mechanisms of CPPs internalization and to select new carriers for drug delivery. This protocol will take approximately 5 hours for the analysis of 12 samples (not including the time for cell incubation with peptides).

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Figure 1: Steps of the CPP cellular uptake quantification protocol.
Figure 2: Mass spectrum obtained for a cellular uptake experiment showing the [M + H]+ signals of the intact peptides.


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We thank A. Joliot and A. Prochiantz for fruitful discussions.

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Correspondence to Fabienne Burlina.

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Burlina, F., Sagan, S., Bolbach, G. et al. A direct approach to quantification of the cellular uptake of cell-penetrating peptides using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. Nat Protoc 1, 200–205 (2006).

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