The proteomic definition of plasma membrane proteins is an important initial step in searching for novel tumor marker proteins expressed during the different stages of cancer progression. However, due to the charge heterogeneity and poor solubility of membrane-associated proteins this subsection of the cell's proteome is often refractory to two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE), the current paradigm technology for studying protein expression profiles. Here, we describe a non-2-DE method for identifying membrane proteins. Proteins from an enriched membrane preparation of the human colorectal carcinoma cell line LIM1215 were initially fractionated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE, 4-20%). The unstained gel was cut into 16 x 3 mm slices, and peptide mixtures resulting from in-gel tryptic digestion of each slice were individually subjected to capillary-column reversed phase-high performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) coupled with electrospray ionization-ion trap-mass spectrometry (ESI-IT-MS). Interrogation of genomic databases with the resulting collision-induced dissociation (CID) generated peptide ion fragment data was used to identify the proteins in each gel slice. Over 284 proteins (including 92 membrane proteins) were identified, including many integral membrane proteins not previously identified by 2-DE, many proteins seen at the genomic level only, as well as several proteins identified by expressed sequence tags (ESTs) only. Additionally, a number of peptides, identified by de novo MS sequence analysis, have not been described in the databases. Further, a "targeted" ion approach was used to unambiguously identify known low-abundance plasma membrane proteins, using the membrane-associated A33 antigen, a gastrointestinal-specific epithelial cell protein, as an example. Following localization of the A33 antigen in the gel by immunoblotting, ions corresponding to the theoretical A33 antigen tryptic peptide masses were selected using an "inclusion" mass list for automated sequence analysis. Six peptides corresponding to the A33 antigen, present at levels well below those accessible using the standard automated "nontargeted" approach, were identified. The membrane protein database may be accessed via the World Wide Web (WWW) at http://www.ludwig. edu.au/jpsl/jpslhome.html.