Novel protein labeling methods enabling quick analysis of newly synthesized proteins in biological processes

Proteins are the building blocks of cells, as they facilitate chemical reactions, provide structural support and transmit signals between cells. Understanding the dynamics of protein synthesis and degradation is essential for unraveling the complex mechanisms underlying cellular processes and how cells respond to external stimuli. However, studying this nascent proteome is a challenge as it is constantly changing and it can be difficult to distinguish it from the pre-existing proteome. Chemists of Radboud University, together with Donders Institute and RIMLS-science, have accomplished a major breakthrough by developing an innovative technique for labeling that allows for effective monitoring and analysis of newly synthesized proteins. The results of the study have recently been published in the high impact journal Nature Communications.

A proteome is the entire set of proteins made by an organism. Proteomics enables the identification of the increasing numbers of proteins, varying with time and distinct requirements. To track newly synthesized proteins, scientists use special labeling methods that allow them to selectively visualize and isolate the proteins from the rest of the cellular proteome. A commonly used method is inserting a bioorthogonally-modified amino acid into these newly synthesized proteins, which can then be selectively labeled and purified for analysis. Current methods often require special conditions or are toxic to cells. The large multidisciplinary research team recently developed the novel labeling method THRONCAT (Threonine-derived Non-Canonical Amino acid Tagging) enabling efficient tracking and analysis of newly synthesized proteins. THRONCAT overcomes these limitations by utilizing a non-canonical and bioorthogonal amino acid called β-ethynylserine (βES), since it can selectively label newly formed proteins without harming the cells or the need for specific conditions. “We are pleased with these results, as they represent a significant step forward in our ability to monitor and examine protein dynamics in cells”, researcher with the Institute of Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University and member of the consortium Kim Bonger says.

Simplicity & user-friendly

The efficacy of THRONCAT was demonstrated by testing the method in various cell types, including bacteria, mammalian cells, and fruit flies. Within minutes of introducing βES to the culture medium, the researchers were able to visualize and isolate newly synthesized proteins, showcasing the simplicity and user-friendliness of the technique. By applying THRONCAT, scientists can now study immediate changes in protein production in response to external stimuli and analyze relative protein synthesis rates in specific cell types in vivo.

Advancing field of proteomics

The THRONCAT method marks a significant advancement in the field of proteomics, offering a simple and efficient approach to study the early stages of protein production within cells in response to external stimuli. Its broad applicability across different cell types and potential clinical applications makes it a valuable tool for both basic and translational research. The innovative protein labeling method opens up new routes for understanding cellular processes and holds promise for enhancing the knowledge of various diseases, drug development, and personalized medicine. “The results of this provides a powerful tool for researchers to gain valuable insights into the cells working mechanism in various biological processes”, Bonger says.


Great teamwork of three research groups from various disciplines led to this breakthrough. “Developing a scientific technology is worthless when not used by the community” Bonger says. “All team members played an important role in the development of THRONCAT; from chemistry to proteomic analysis and relevant applications in vivo”. The team foresees that THRONCAT will contribute to the advance of many scientific discoveries as there is great interest from the international scientific community. Bonger concludes: “We look forward to many collaborations and developing THRONCAT further introducing new features that help researchers answering their scientific research questions even faster and easier”.

Faculty Meet Up

The significant and inspiring achievements of the research team have not gone unnoticed at the Faculty of Science. During the recent Faculty 's Meet Up event, the project and output was highlighted and the entire team was acknowledged for their effort and the societal impact of the project. The Faculty’s Meet Up aim to provide a platform for staff and students to meet and exchange knowledge and start collaborations.

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