Characterization of histone-related chemical modifications in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded and fresh-frozen human pancreatic cancer xenografts using LC-MS/MS

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Laboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology





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Post-translational modifications (PTMs) of histones including acetylation, methylation, and ubiquitination are known to be involved in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression and thus can have an important role in tumorigenesis. A number of PTMs have been linked to pancreatic cancer and are frequently studied as potential targets for cancer therapy or diagnosis. The availability of biobank-stored, formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) materials and advanced proteomic analytical tools make it possible to detect histone-related PTMs using predicted mass shifts caused by specific modification. It is, however, important to take into account the fact that formaldehyde (FA) present in the FFPE material is chemically reactive and may undergo condensation reactions, for example, with terminal amino groups and active CH functionalities of the studied proteins. As supported by the results of this study, the possibility to misinterpret such protein condensation product as endogenous PTMs should be taken into consideration in all proteomic analytical work involving FFPE materials. In this study, we used liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to assess preassumed modification of the lysine residues of histone proteins in FFPE or fresh-frozen (FF) tumor xenografts, derived from the human pancreatic cancer cell line, Capan-1. Here we report modifications with a defined mass shift of +14.016, +28.031, +42.011, or +114.043 Da, corresponding to apparent methylation, dimethylation, acetylation, or ubiquitination that were differentially distributed between the groups. The identified modifications were significantly more frequent in FFPE samples as compared with FF samples. Our results indicate that FFPE tissue processing may result in persistent chemical modifications of histones, which correspond in mass shift of important PTMs. Herein, we highlight the importance to investigate and report FA-formed modifications in FFPE-treated tissues, as well as the necessity of careful manual examination of observed modifications to eliminate false-positive PTMs.

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