A new 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH)-based photometric assay is developed for the quantification of carbonyls in protein samples from any biological source by protein carbonyl-DNPH hydrazone formation at acidic pH in the presence of denaturing urea, and subsequent hydrazone solubilization in the presence of SDS and stabilization from acid hydrolysis at pH 7.0. At this neutral (ntr) pH, interfering unreacted DNPH is uncharged and its thus increased hydrophobicity permits its 100% effective removal from the solubilizate with ethyl acetate/hexane wash. The ntrDNPH assay is more reliable and sensitive than the standard (std) DNPH photometric assay because it eliminates its main limitations: (i) interfering unreacted DNPH (pKa 1.55) that is nonspecifically bound to the TCA (pKa 0.7)-protein pellet is not effectively removed after wash with EtOH: ethyl acetate because it is positively charged, (ii) acid (TCA-induced) hydrolysis of the protein carbonyl-DNPH hydrazone, (iii) sample protein concentration re-determination, (iv) loss of sample acid (TCA)-soluble proteins, (v) DNA interference, and (vi) requires high protein quantity samples (≥ 1 mg). Considering ntrDNPH assay's very low protein limit (1 µg), its cumulative and functional sensitivities are 2600- and 2000-fold higher than those of the stdDNPH assay, respectively. The present study elucidates the DNA interference mechanism on the stdDNPH assay, and also develops a standardized protocol for sample protein treatment and fractionation (into cytoplasmic/aqueous, membrane/lipid-bound, and histone/DNA-bound proteins; see Supplement section V) in order to ensure reproducible carbonyl determination on defined cell protein fractions, and to eliminate assay interference from protein samples containing (i) Cys sulfenic acid groups (via their neutralization with dithiothreitol), and (ii) DNA (via its removal by streptomycin sulfate precipitation). Lastly, the ntrDNPH assay determines carbonyl groups on cell wall polysaccharides, thus paving the way on studies to investigate cell walls acting as antioxidant defense in plants, fungi, bacteria and lichens.
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