Sprung RW, Brock JW, Tanksley JP, Li M, Washington MK, Slebos RJ, Liebler DC. Equivalence of protein inventories obtained from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded and frozen tissue in multidimensional liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry shotgun proteomic analysis. Molecular & cellular proteomics : MCP. 2009 Aug;8(8). 1988-98. PMID: 19467989 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC2722776
Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue specimens comprise a potentially valuable resource for retrospective biomarker discovery studies, and recent work indicates the feasibility of using shotgun proteomics to characterize FFPE tissue proteins. A critical question in the field is whether proteomes characterized in FFPE specimens are equivalent to proteomes in corresponding fresh or frozen tissue specimens. Here we compared shotgun proteomic analyses of frozen and FFPE specimens prepared from the same colon adenoma tissues. Following deparaffinization, rehydration, and tryptic digestion under mild conditions, FFPE specimens corresponding to 200 microg of protein yielded approximately 400 confident protein identifications in a one-dimensional reverse phase liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) analysis. The major difference between frozen and FFPE proteomes was a decrease in the proportions of lysine C-terminal to arginine C-terminal peptides observed, but these differences had little effect on the proteins identified. No covalent peptide modifications attributable to formaldehyde chemistry were detected by analyses of the MS/MS datasets, which suggests that undetected, cross-linked peptides comprise the major class of modifications in FFPE tissues. Fixation of tissue for up to 2 days in neutral buffered formalin did not adversely impact protein identifications. Analysis of archival colon adenoma FFPE specimens indicated equivalent numbers of MS/MS spectral counts and protein group identifications from specimens stored for 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. Combination of peptide isoelectric focusing-based separation with reverse phase LC-MS/MS identified 2554 protein groups in 600 ng of protein from frozen tissue and 2302 protein groups from FFPE tissue with at least two distinct peptide identifications per protein. Analysis of the combined frozen and FFPE data showed a 92% overlap in the protein groups identified. Comparison of gene ontology categories of identified proteins revealed no bias in protein identification based on subcellular localization. Although the status of posttranslational modifications was not examined in this study, archival samples displayed a modest increase in methionine oxidation, from approximately 17% after one year of storage to approximately 25% after 10 years. These data demonstrate the equivalence of proteome inventories obtained from FFPE and frozen tissue specimens and provide support for retrospective proteomic analysis of FFPE tissues for biomarker discovery.