Edman degradation

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Edman degradation, developed by Pehr Edman, is a method of sequencing amino acids in a peptide. In this method, the amino-terminal residue is labeled and cleaved from the peptide without disrupting the peptide bonds between other amino acid residues.

Mechanism for Edman Degradation

Edman Degradation with generic amino acid peptide chain.

Phenylisothiocyanate is reacted with an uncharged terminal amino group, under mildly alkaline conditions, to form a phenylthiocarbamoyl derivative. Then, under acidic conditions, this derivative of the terminal amino acid is cleaved as a thiazolinone derivative. The thiazolinone amino acid is then selectively extracted into an organic solvent and treated with acid to form the more stable phenylthiohydantoin (PTH)- amino acid derivative that can be identified by using chromatography or electrophoresis. This procedure can then be repeated again to identify the next amino acid. A major drawback to this technique is that the peptides being sequenced in this manner cannot have more than 50 to 60 residues. This is because the Edman degradation reaction is not 100% efficient, meaning that the cleavage step does not occur every time. However, this problem can be resolved by cleaving large peptides into smaller peptides before proceeding with the reaction. It is able to accurately sequence up to 30 amino acids with 98% efficiency per amino acid. An advantage of the Edman degradation is that it only uses 10 - 100 picomoles of peptide for the sequencing process. Edman degradation reaction is automated to speed up the process. [1]

Bergmann Degradation

An older related method for the stepwise degradation of polypeptides involving azides is the Bergmann Degradation [2] [3].


  1. Automated Edman degradation: the protein sequenator. Methods Enzymol. 1973;27:942-1010.
  2. M. Bergmann, Science 79, 439 (1934)
  3. drugfuture.com Link