SDS-Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis

SDS-PAGE, sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, is a technique used in biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology to separate proteins according to their electrophoretic mobility (a function of length of polypeptide chain or molecular weight as well as higher order protein folding, posttranslational modifications and other factors).

The solution of proteins to be analyzed is first mixed with SDS, an anionic detergent which denatures secondary and non–disulfide–linked tertiary structures, and applies a negative charge to each protein in proportion to its mass. Without SDS, different proteins with similar molecular weights would migrate differently due to differences in mass charge ratio, as each protein has an isoelectric point and molecular weight particular to its primary structure. This is known as Native PAGE. Adding SDS solves this problem, as it binds to and unfolds the protein, giving a near uniform negative charge along the length of the polypeptide.
SDS bind in a ratio of approximately 1.4 g SDS per 1.0 g protein (although binding ratios can vary from 1.1-2.2 g SDS/g protein), giving an approximately uniform mass:charge ratio for most proteins, so that the distance of migration through the gel can be assumed to be directly related to only the size of the protein. A tracking dye may be added to the protein solution to allow the experimenter to track the progress of the protein solution through the gel during the electrophoretic run.
''Polyacrylamide gel (PAG)'' had been known as a potential embedding medium for sectioning tissues as early as 1954. Two independent groups: Davis and Raymond, employed PAG in electrophoresis in 1959. It possesses several electrophoretically desirable features that made it a versatile medium. Polyacrylamide gel separates protein molecules according to both size and charge. It is a synthetic gel, thermo-stable, transparent, strong, relatively chemically inert, can be prepared with a wide range of average pore sizes, can withstand high voltage gradients, feasible to various staining and destaining procedures and can be digested to extract separated fractions or dried for autoradiography and permanent recording. DISC electrophoresis utilizes gels of different pore sizes. The name DISC was derived from the discontinuities in the electrophoretic matrix and coincidentally from the discoid shape of the separated zones of ions (Anbalagan, 1999). There are two layers of gel, namely stacking or spacer gel, and resolving or separating gel.

The denatured proteins are subsequently applied to one end of a layer of polyacrylamide gel submerged in a suitable buffer. An electric current is applied across the gel, causing the negatively-charged proteins to migrate across the gel towards the anode. Depending on their size, each protein will move differently through the gel matrix: short proteins will more easily fit through the pores in the gel, while larger ones will have more difficulty (they encounter more resistance). After a set amount of time (usually a few hours- though this depends on the voltage applied across the gel; higher voltages run faster but tend to produce somewhat poorer resolution), the proteins will have differentially migrated based on their size; smaller proteins will have traveled farther down the gel, while larger ones will have remained closer to the point of origin. Thus proteins may be separated roughly according to size (and therefore, molecular weight). Following electrophoresis, the gel may be stained (most commonly with Coomassie Brilliant Blue or silver stain), allowing visualisation of the separated proteins, or processed further (e.g. Western blot). After staining, different proteins will appear as distinct bands within the gel. It is common to run "marker proteins" of known molecular weight in a separate lane in the gel, in order to calibrate the gel and determine the weight of unknown proteins by comparing the distance traveled relative to the marker. The gel is actually formed because the acrylamide solution contains a small amount, generally about 1 part in 35 of bisacrylamide, which can form cross-links between two polyacrylamide molecules. The ratio of acrylamide to bisacrylamide can be varied for special purposes. The acrylamide concentration of the gel can also be varied, generally in the range from 5% to 25%. Lower percentage gels are better for resolving very high molecular weight proteins, while much higher percentages are needed to resolve smaller proteins. Determining how much of the various solutions to mix together to make gels of particular acrylamide concentration can be done on line
Gel electrophoresis is usually the first choice as an assay of protein purity due to its reliability and ease. The presence of SDS and the denaturing step causes proteins to be separated solely based on size. False negatives and positives are possible. A co migrating contaminant can appear as the same band as the desired protein. This comigration could also cause a protein to run at a different position or to not be able to penetrate the gel. This is why it is important to stain the entire gel including the stacking section. Coomassie Brilliant Blue will also bind with less affinity to glycoproteins and fibrous proteins, which interferes with quantification (Deutscher 1990).

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