The Chemical Ingredients and What they Do
What exactly does SDS do?
It unfolds proteins. Application of SDS to proteins causes them to lose their higher order structures and become linear. Since SDS is anionic (negatively charged), it binds to all the positive charges on a protein, effectively coating the protein in negative charge.
Why do we want the protein coated in negative charges?
To remove charge as a factor in protein migration through the gel. SDS binds to proteins with high affinity and in high concentrations. This results in all proteins (regardless of size) having a similar net negative charge and a similar charge-to-mass ratio. In this way, when they start moving through a gel, the speed that they move will be dependent on their size, and not their charge.
After getting hit with SDS, is a protein’s size the only thing that affects its migration through the gel?
It is by far the biggest factor. However, SDS can bind differently to different proteins. Hydrophobic proteins may bind more SDS, and proteins with post-translational modifications such as phosphorylation and glycosylation may bind less SDS. These effects are usually negligible, but not always, and should be considered if your protein is running at a different molecular weight than expected.
What is in the running buffer?
Tris, glycine, and SDS, pH 8.3. Tris is the buffer used for most SDS-PAGE. Its pKa of 8.1 makes it an excellent buffer in the 7-9 pH range. This makes it a good choice for most biological systems. SDS in the buffer helps keep the proteins linear. Glycine is an amino acid whose charge state plays a big role in the stacking gel. More on that in a bit.
What is in the sample loading buffer?
Tris-HCl, SDS, glycerol, beta mercaptoethanol (BME), Bromophenol Blue. This is the buffer you mix with your protein samples prior to loading the gel. Again with the Tris buffer and its pKa. The SDS denatures and linearizes the proteins, coating them in negative charge. BME breaks up disulfide bonds in the proteins to help them enter the gel. Glycerol adds density to the sample, helping it drop to the bottom of the loading wells and to keep it from diffusing out of the well while the rest of the gel is loaded. Bromophenol Blue is a dye that helps visualization of the samples in the wells and their movement through the gel. Sample loading buffer is also known as Laemmli Buffer, named after the Swiss professor who invented it around 1970.
What is in the gels?
Tris-HCl, acrylamide, water, SDS, ammonium persulfate, and TEMED. Although the pH values are different, both the stacking and resolving layers of the gel contain these components. Tris and SDS are there for the reasons described above. Ammonium persulfate and TEMED work together to catalyze the polymerization of the acrylamide. The Cl- ions from the Tris-HCl work with the glycine ions in the stacking gel. Again, more to come on that.