Quantitation and identification of intact major milk proteins for high-throughput LC-ESI-Q-TOF MS analyses
Cow’s milk is an important source of proteins in human nutrition. On average, cow’s milk contains 3.5% protein. The most abundant proteins in bovine milk are caseins and some of the whey proteins, namely beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and serum albumin. A number of allelic variants and post-translationally modified forms of these proteins have been identified. Their occurrence varies with breed, individuality, stage of lactation, and health and nutritional status of the animal. It is therefore essential to have reliable methods of detection and quantitation of these proteins. Traditionally, major milk proteins are quantified using liquid chromatography (LC) and ultra violet detection method. However, as these protein variants co-elute to some degree, another dimension of separation is beneficial to accurately measure their amounts. Mass spectrometry (MS) offers such a tool. In this study, we tested several RP-HPLC and MS parameters to optimise the analysis of intact bovine proteins from milk. From our tests, we developed an optimum method that includes a 20-28-40% phase B gradient with 0.02% TFA in both mobile phases, at 0.2 mL/min flow rate, using 75°C for the C8 column temperature, scanning every 3 sec over a 600–3000 m/z window. The optimisations were performed using external standards commercially purchased for which ionisation efficiency, linearity of calibration, LOD, LOQ, sensitivity, selectivity, precision, reproducibility, and mass accuracy were demonstrated. From the MS analysis, we can use extracted ion chromatograms (EICs) of specific ion series of known proteins and integrate peaks at defined retention time (RT) window for quantitation purposes. This optimum quantitative method was successfully applied to two bulk milk samples from different breeds, Holstein-Friesian and Jersey, to assess differences in protein variant levels.