We have studied the binding of the toxic element Cd to plant proteins and have used for this purpose spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) plants treated with 50 μM Cd(II) as a model system. Laser ablation ICP-MS has been applied for the screening of Cd-binding proteins after separation by native anodal polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (AN-PAGE) and electroblotting onto membranes. The main Cd-carrying protein band was isolated and investigated by nano-electrospray ionization–Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectrometry after tryptic digestion. By this procedure, the main Cd-binding protein was identified as ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO). The latter enzyme has been discussed in the literature to be affected in its activity by oxidative stress induced by Cd. However, in this paper it is demonstrated for the first time that RuBisCO directly binds Cd and thus may be directly altered by this toxic element. A commercially available protein standard was used to verify direct binding of Cd(II) to the protein, even without metabolisation. The resulting metal–protein complex was shown to be stable enough to survive AN-PAGE separation and electroblotting. By the use of size exclusion chromatography coupled with ICP-MS it was demonstrated that the RuBisCO protein standard shows similar metal binding properties to Cd. Furthermore, essential elements such as Mn(II), Fe(II) and Cu(II), which are known to possibly replace the RuBisCO activator Mg(II), were investigated in addition to Zn(II). Again, similar binding properties in comparison to the plant protein were observed.
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