The low molecular weight region of the serum peptidome contains protein fragments derived from 2 sources: (a) high-abundance endogenous circulating proteins and (b) cell and tissue proteins. While some researchers have dismissed the serum peptidome as biological trash, recent work using mass spectrometry–based (MS-based) profiling has indicated that the peptidome may reflect biological events and contain diagnostic biomarkers. In this issue of the JCI, Villanueva et al. report on MS-based peptide profiling of serum samples from patients with advanced prostate, bladder, or breast cancer as well as from healthy controls. Surprisingly, the peptides identified as cancer-type–specific markers proved to be products of enzymatic breakdown generated after patient blood collection. The impact of these results on cancer biomarker discovery efforts is significant because it is widely believed that proteolysis occurring ex vivo should be suppressed because it destroys endogenous biomarkers. Villanueva et al. now suggest that this suppression may in fact be preventing biomarker generation.
Lance A. Liotta, Emanuel F. Petricoin
Proteinases generate biomarker fragments.