In the present study, the impact on peptide properties of labelling peptides with the fluorophore TAMRA or the selenium (Se) containing amino acid SeMet was evaluated. Three differently labelled variants of the cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) penetratin (Pen) were synthesized, PenMSe, TAMRA-PenMSe and TAMRA-Pen. The labelled peptides were characterized in terms of hydrodynamic radius, secondary structure during peptide–membrane interaction, effect on membrane leakage induction, uptake efficiency in HeLa cells. Furthermore, stability of peptides and identities of degradation products in cell media and cell lysate were evaluated. TAMRA-labelling increased the hydrodynamic radius of Pen and PenMSe significantly. Labelling with Se caused no or minimal changes in size, secondary structure and membrane leakage induction in concentration levels relevant for cellular uptake studies. Similar degradation patterns of all labelled peptides were observed in HBSS media; degradation was mainly due to oxidation. Cellular uptake was significantly higher for the TAMRA labelled peptides as compared to Se-labelled Pen. Extensive degradation was observed in media during cellular uptake studies, however, in all cell lysates, primarily the intact peptide (PenMSe, TAMRA-PenMSe or TAMRA-Pen) was observed.
Selenium labelling caused minimal alteration of the physicochemical properties of the peptide and allowed for absolute quantitative determination of cellular uptake by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Selenium is thus proposed as a promising alternative label for quantification of peptides in general, altering the properties of the peptide to a minor extent as compared to commonly used peptide labels.