Metabolic Implications of Using BioOrthogonal Non-Canonical Amino Acid Tagging (BONCAT) for Tracking Protein Synthesis


BioOrthogonal Non-Canonical Amino acid Tagging (BONCAT) is a powerful tool for tracking protein synthesis on the level of single cells within communities and whole organisms. A basic premise of BONCAT is that the non-canonical amino acids (NCAA) used to track translational activity do not significantly alter cellular physiology. If the NCAA would induce changes in the metabolic state of cells, interpretation of BONCAT studies could be challenging. To address this knowledge-gap, we have used a global metabolomics analyses to assess the intracellular effects of NCAA incorporation. Two NCAA were tested: L-azidohomoalanine (AHA) and L-homopropargylglycine (HPG); L-methionine (MET) was used as a minimal stress baseline control. Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) were used to characterize intracellular metabolite profiles of Escherichia coli cultures, with multivariate statistical analysis using XCMS and MetaboAnalyst. Results show that doping with NCAA induces metabolic changes, however, the metabolic impact was not dramatic. A second set of experiments in which cultures were placed under mild stress to simulate real-world environmental conditions showed a more consistent and more robust perturbation. Pathways that changed include amino acid and protein synthesis, choline and betaine, and the TCA cycle. Globally, these changes were statistically minor, indicating that NCAA are unlikely to exert a significant impact on cells during incorporation. Our results are consistent with previous reports of NCAA doping under replete conditions and extend these results to bacterial growth under environmentally relevant conditions. Our work highlights the power of metabolomics studies in detecting cellular response to growth conditions and the complementarity of NMR and LCMS as omics tools.




Steward, Katherine F., Brian Eilers, Brian Tripet, Amanda Fuchs, Michael Dorle, Rachel Rawle, Berliza Soriano, et al. “Metabolic Implications of Using BioOrthogonal Non-Canonical Amino Acid Tagging (BONCAT) for Tracking Protein Synthesis.” Frontiers in Microbiology 11 (February 13, 2020). doi:10.3389/fmicb.2020.00197.
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