SDS-PAGE (Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis) is a commonly used technique for the separation of proteins based on their size. Western blotting is a commonly used method for detecting and analyzing the separated proteins. An important aspect of Western blotting is the use of buffers, which play a crucial role in the success of the experiment. Two types of buffers are commonly used in Western blotting: running buffer and transfer buffer. Understanding the difference (Table 1) between and what their specific functions are is crucial to a successful Western blotting experiment.
Table of contents
What's the difference between running buffer and transfer buffer?
|What it is||When it's used|
|Running buffer||Running buffer is a solution used in electrophoresis, specifically in SDS-PAGE.||Running buffer's main purpose is to create an electric field that allows for the movement of proteins through the gel during the electrophoresis process.|
|Transfer buffer||Transfer buffer serves as a conductive medium to facilitate the transfer process. It is designed to preserve a consistent pH level, aiding the elution of proteins from the gel, as well as their binding to the membrane.||Transfer buffer is used in the process of Western blotting and electrophoretic transfer.|
Table 1. The difference between running and transfer buffer
For conducting nucleic acid or protein electrophoretic separations, running buffer is essential, as it provides the required solutions.
Transfer buffer is a solution used in the process of Western blotting, a commonly used technique for detecting specific proteins after being separated using SDS-PAGE. It is used to transfer the separated proteins from the gel to a solid support, such as a nitrocellulose or PVDF (Polyvinylidene Fluoride) membrane. This allows for the detection and analysis of specific proteins of interest. Keep reading for ingredients and guidelines on how to use each type of buffer.
How do you make running buffer?
Running buffer is made up of a mixture of SDS and a salt, such as Tris-HCl, which helps to maintain the pH and conductivity of the solution. The concentration of SDS in the running buffer is usually around 1% and helps to uniformly denature and negatively charge the proteins, allowing for their separation based on size and not charge1.
To make the running buffer, mix the following ingredients in distilled water:
pH variations can affect the separation of proteins, which is why the pH of the running buffer should be checked and adjusted to 8.3 before use. The running buffer should be pre-heated to 70-75°C to solubilize the SDS when first making it, before cooling it down to room temperature.
Can I reuse running buffer?
Reusing running buffer is generally not recommended because it can affect the accuracy of protein separation in SDS-PAGE. Running buffer becomes contaminated with protein fragments and other debris after each electrophoresis run, which can interfere with subsequent runs and lead to unreliable results. Additionally, the SDS and other components in the buffer can degrade over time, affecting its effectiveness.
For these reasons, we recommend preparing fresh running buffer for each experiment to ensure your results are accurate and consistent. It is possible to prepare and store a larger batch for a short period of time (e.g. a few days) in a refrigerated environment; however, you should still replace it regularly to save time.
How do you make transfer buffer?
Before jumping into mixing your own, you should know that transfer buffer can easily be purchased. Azure offers free samples of our proprietary transfer buffer if you find yourself wanting to eliminate the time it takes to mix your own. Our transfer buffer provides improved detection of low-abundance and post-translationally modified proteins. High-efficiency protein transfer and increased protein retention on the membrane add up to more sensitive Western blots.
However, the answer to how to make transfer buffer is simple: it typically contains a combination of salt, such as Tris-HCl, and a reducing agent, such as methanol, to help maintain the stability of the proteins during transfer by dissociating SDS from the proteins. Methanol is also important for helping the proteins adhere to the membrane. Unlike running buffer, transfer buffer does not contain SDS, as its role is to preserve the proteins and not to denature them. The pH of the transfer buffer is usually around 7-8 to ensure optimal protein transfer and stability.
Mix your own transfer buffer using this popular recipe:
Transfer buffer should be prepared fresh for each experiment, because its effectiveness can be affected by long-term storage or repeated use. To ensure consistency and reliability, purchasing transfer buffer is a great idea. Using our proprietary transfer buffer provides improved detection of low-abundance and post-translationally modified proteins. The combination of high-efficiency protein transfer and increased protein retention on the membrane amount to more sensitive Western blots. Using pre-made transfer buffer allows you to transfer proteins in less than 20 minutes vs. several hours required with traditional, homemade transfer buffers.
How many times can transfer buffer be used?
The number of times transfer buffer can be reused depends on several factors, including the composition of the buffer, the size and stability of the proteins being transferred, and the conditions of storage and use. In general, reuse of transfer buffer is not recommended, as the efficiency of protein transfer can decrease with repeated use.
Proteins can become trapped in the gel or in the pores of the transfer membrane, reducing the overall efficiency of transfer. Additionally, the reducing agent in the transfer buffer can degrade over time, affecting its ability to preserve the proteins during transfer resulting in inaccurate results. The presence of contaminants or impurities in the buffer can also reduce its effectiveness.
For these reasons, we suggest you prepare fresh transfer buffer for each experiment to ensure your results are accurate and reliable. If cost or availability is a concern, transfer buffer can be stored for a short period of time (e.g., a few days) in a refrigerated environment, but it should still be replaced regularly to ensure optimal results.
Quick, 1-hour or transfers overnight at lower voltages
The Azure Aqua Transfer Cell is able to keep gels cool through a compatible ice pack in the buffer chamber. You can also place the entire gel apparatus in a cold room while it runs.
In SDS-PAGE, proteins migrate according to their size, with smaller proteins migrating more quickly through the gel inside of a transfer cell. The percentage of polyacrylamide in the gel determines how easily proteins of various sizes can move through the gel, with higher percentage gels having a tighter gel matrix better for resolving smaller proteins.
We hope after reading this article you are able to easily distinguish the difference between transfer and running buffers. If you still have questions regarding the steps of Western blotting, fill out the form below and someone from our team will assist. Additional resources on SDS page can be found below as well. Cheers!
Additional resources for gel electrophoresis and SDS-PAGE:
Gavini K, Parameshwaran K. Western Blot. [Updated 2022 Apr 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542290/