Analytical Chemistry

Gas-Phase Ion/Ion Chemistry for Structurally Sensitive Probes of Gaseous Protein Ion Structure: Electrostatic and Electrostatic to Covalent Cross-Linking



Intramolecular interactions within a protein are key in maintaining protein tertiary structure and understanding how proteins function. Ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IM-MS) has become a widely used approach in structural biology since it provides rapid measurements of collision cross sections (CCS), which inform on the gas-phase conformation of the biomolecule under study. Gas-phase ion/ion reactions target amino acid residues with specific chemical properties and the modified sites can be identified by MS. In this study, electrostatically reactive, gas-phase ion/ion chemistry and IM-MS are combined to characterize the structural changes between ubiquitin electrosprayed from aqueous and denaturing conditions. The electrostatic attachment of sulfo-NHS acetate to ubiquitin via ion/ion reactions and fragmentation by electron-capture dissociation (ECD) provide the identification of the most accessible protonated sites within ubiquitin as the sulfonate group forms an electrostatic complex with accessible protonated side chains. The protonated sites identified by ECD from the different solution conditions are distinct and, in some cases, reflect the disruption of interactions such as salt bridges that maintain the native protein structure. This agrees with previously published literature demonstrating that a high methanol concentration at low pH causes the structure of ubiquitin to change from a native (N) state to a more elongated A state. Results using gas-phase, electrostatic cross-linking reagents also point to similar structural changes and further confirm the role of methanol and acid in favoring a more unfolded conformation. Since cross-linking reagents have a distance constraint for the two reactive sites, the data is valuable in guiding computational structures generated by molecular dynamics. The research presented here describes a promising strategy that can detect subtle changes in the local environment of targeted amino acid residues to inform on changes in the overall protein structure.


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Supplementary material

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Supplemental information