Seminars in cell & developmental biology

Using protein microarrays to study phosphorylation-mediated signal transduction.

PMID 22706299


Unraveling the complexity of cell regulatory systems and monitoring their operations under normal and pathological circumstances is one of the major outstanding biomedical challenges. The phosphoproteome has emerged as a rich source of biomarkers for tracking cell signaling and disease, and many of the kinases that phosphorylate proteins represent attractive targets for drug development. Over 100,000 phosphorylation sites distributed in most of the 23,000 proteins encoded by the human genome have already been identified in a non-targeted fashion by mass-spectrometry. Antibody microarrays permit ultra-sensitive, semi-quantitative measurements of the levels of hundreds of target proteins and their phosphorylation in parallel with specimens from cells and tissues. Conversely, reverse-phase protein microarrays (RPPMs) that are printed with crude cell/tissue lysates allow tracking of a target protein with a probing antibody in hundreds to thousands of cell and tissue samples simultaneously. While more than half a million commercial antibodies are available, the identification of highly specific and potent antibodies for use in microarrays remains a major impediment. Antibody cross-reactivity is an issue for both antibody microarrays and RPPMs. The low abundance of signal transduction proteins and their substoichiometric levels of phosphorylation are also problematic. Finally, non-denaturing conditions used with standard antibody microarrays permit protein complexes, which can produce false positives and false negatives. Changes in the level of an interacting protein may be misinterpreted as alterations in the amount of a target protein or its phosphorylation state. It is critical that leads from both types of microarrays are validated by complementary approaches such as immunoblotting and ELISA. More than a hundred reports have appeared in the scientific literature that have benefited from utilization of antibody and protein lysate microarrays. We have highlighted some of the pioneering works in this field and provided recent examples of their successful deployment as tools for broad-based, targeted proteomics research.