Low Cell Number Proteomic Analysis Using In-Cell Protease Digests Reveals a Robust Signature for Cell Cycle State Classification

Van Kelly, Aymen Al-Rawi, David Lewis, Georg Kustatscher, Tony Ly (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    6 Citations (Scopus)
    100 Downloads (Pure)


    Comprehensive proteome analysis of rare cell phenotypes remains a significant challenge. We report a method for low cell number MS-based proteomics using protease digestion of mildly formaldehyde-fixed cells in cellulo, which we call the “in-cell digest.” We combined this with averaged MS1 precursor library matching to quantitatively characterize proteomes from low cell numbers of human lymphoblasts. About 4500 proteins were detected from 2000 cells, and 2500 proteins were quantitated from 200 lymphoblasts. The ease of sample processing and high sensitivity makes this method exceptionally suited for the proteomic analysis of rare cell states, including immune cell subsets and cell cycle subphases. To demonstrate the method, we characterized the proteome changes across 16 cell cycle states (CCSs) isolated from an asynchronous TK6 cells, avoiding synchronization. States included late mitotic cells present at extremely low frequency. We identified 119 pseudoperiodic proteins that vary across the cell cycle. Clustering of the pseudoperiodic proteins showed abundance patterns consistent with “waves” of protein degradation in late S, at the G2&M border, midmitosis, and at mitotic exit. These clusters were distinguished by significant differences in predicted nuclear localization and interaction with the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome. The dataset also identifies putative anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome substrates in mitosis and the temporal order in which they are targeted for degradation. We demonstrate that a protein signature made of these 119 high-confidence cell cycle–regulated proteins can be used to perform unbiased classification of proteomes into CCSs. We applied this signature to 296 proteomes that encompass a range of quantitation methods, cell types, and experimental conditions. The analysis confidently assigns a CCS for 49 proteomes, including correct classification for proteomes from synchronized cells. We anticipate that this robust cell cycle protein signature will be crucial for classifying cell states in single-cell proteomes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number100169
    Number of pages19
    JournalMolecular & Cellular Proteomics
    Issue number1
    Early online date4 Nov 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


    • single-cell proteome heterogeneity
    • FACS
    • formaldehyde
    • MS1-based feature matching

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Analytical Chemistry
    • Biochemistry
    • Molecular Biology


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