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J Am Chem Soc. 2001 Oct 10;123(40):9792-9.

Kinetic intermediates in the folding of gaseous protein ions characterized by electron capture dissociation mass spectrometry.

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Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, New York 14853-1301, USA.


Alternative mechanisms propose that protein folding in solution proceeds either through specific obligate intermediates or by a multiplicity of routes in a "folding funnel". These questions are examined in the gas phase by using a new method that provides details of the noncovalent binding of solvent-free protein ions. Capture of an electron by a multiply charged cation causes immediate dissociation (ECD) of a backbone bond, but with negligible excitation of noncovalent bonds; thus ECD of a linear protein ion produces two measurable fragment ions only if these are not held together by noncovalent bonds. Thermal unfolding of 9+ ions of cytochrome c proceeds through the separate unfolding of up to 13 backbone regions (represented by 44 bond cleavages) with melting temperatures of <26 to 140 degrees C. An 0.25 s laser IR pulse induces unfolding of 9+ ions in <4 s in six of these regions, followed by their refolding in 2 min. However, for the 15+ ions a laser IR pulse causes slower unfolding through poorly defined intermediates that leads to far more ECD products (63% increase in bond cleavages) after 1 min, even more than heating to 140 degrees C, with refolding to a more compact conformation in 10 min. Random isomerization appears to produce a dynamic mixture of conformers that folds through a variety of pathways to the most stable conformer(s), consistent with a "folding funnel"; this might also be considered as an extension of the classical view to a system with a far smaller free energy change yielding multiple conformers. As cautions to inferring solution conformational structure from gas-phase data, no structural relationship between these gaseous folding intermediates and those in solution is apparent, consistent with reduced hydrophobic bonding and increased electrostatic repulsion. Further, equilibrium folding of gaseous ions can require minutes, and even momentary unfolding of an intermolecular complex during this time can be irreversible.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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