The breakdown of long-lived proteins (LLPs) is associated with aging, as well as disease; however, our understanding of the molecular processes involved is still limited. Of particular relevance, cross-linked proteins are often reported in aged tissues but the mechanisms for their formation are poorly understood. In the present study, sites of protein cross-linking in human ocular lenses were characterized using proteomic techniques. In long-lived lens proteins, several sites of cross-linking were found to involve the addition of Lys to Asp or Asn residues. Using model peptides containing Asp or Asn, a mechanism was elucidated that involves a succinimide intermediate. Succinimides formed readily from Asn at neutral pH, whereas a higher rate of formation from Asp peptides was observed at more acidic pHs. Succinimides were found to be relatively stable in the absence of nucleophiles. Since racemization of Asp residues, as well as deamidation of Asn, involves a succinimide intermediate, sites of d-Asp and isoAsp in LLPs should also be considered as potential sites of protein covalent cross-linking.
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the Biochemical Society.