Author(s): Kaltashov IA, Mohimen A
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Abstract The extent of multiple charging of protein ions in electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectra depends on the solvent-exposed surface area, but it may also be influenced by a variety of other extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Gas-phase ion chemistry (charge-transfer and charge-partitioning reactions) appears to be the major extrinsic factor influencing the extent of protonation as detected by ESI MS. In this work, we demonstrate that under carefully controlled conditions, which limit the occurrence of the charge-transfer reactions in the gas phase, charge-state distributions of protein ions can be used to assess the solvent-exposed surface area in solution. A set of proteins ranging from 5-kDa insulin to 500-kDa ferritin shows a clear correlation between the average charge in ESI mass spectra acquired under native conditions and their surface areas calculated based on the available crystal structures. An increase of the extent of charge-transfer reactions in the ESI interface results in a noticeable decrease of the average charge of protein ions across the entire range of tested proteins, while the charge-surface correlation is maintained. On the other hand, the intrinsic factors (e.g., a limited number of basic residues) do not appear to play a significant role in determining the protein ion charge. Based on these results, it is now possible to obtain estimates of the surface areas of proteins and protein complexes, for which crystal structures are not available. We also demonstrate how the ESI MS measurements can be used to characterize protein-protein interaction in solution by providing quantitative information on the subunit interfaces formed in protein associations.
This article was published in Anal Chem
and referenced in Journal of Analytical & Bioanalytical Techniques