Integration of Protein Processing Steps on a Droplet Microfluidics Platform for MALDI-MS Analysis

A droplet-based (digital) microfluidics platform has been developed to prepare and purify protein samples for measurement by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS). Liquid droplets are moved in air by sequentially applying an electric potential to an array of electrodes patterned beneath a hydrophobic dielectric layer. We show that a complete integrated sequence of protein processing steps can be performed on this platform, including disulfide reduction, alkylation, and enzymatic digestion, followed by cocrystallization with a MALDI matrix and analysis of the sample in situ by MALDI-MS. Proteins carbonic anhydrase, cytochrome <i>c</i>, and ubiquitin were used to demonstrate the digestion and postdigestion steps; insulin, serum albumin, and lysozyme were used to illustrate the complete sequence of protein processing steps available with the platform. Several functional improvements in the platform are reported, notably, the incorporation of acetonitrile in the protein droplets to facilitate movement, and patterning the device surfaces to optimize sample crystallization. The method is fast, simple, repeatable, and results in lower reagent consumption and sample loss than conventional techniques for proteomics sample preparation.