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J Am Chem Soc. 2002 Jun 5;124(22):6407-20.

Detailed unfolding and folding of gaseous ubiquitin ions characterized by electron capture dissociation.

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


The unfolding enthalpy of the native state of ubiquitin in solution is 5 to 8 times that of its gaseous ions, as determined by electron capture dissociation (ECD) mass spectrometry. Although two-state folding occurs in solution, the three-state gaseous process proposed for this by Clemmer and co-workers based on ion mobility data is supported in general by ECD mass spectra, including relative product yields, distinct Delta H(unfolding) values between states, site-specific melting temperatures, and folding kinetics indicating a cooperative process. ECD also confirms that the 13+ ions represent separate conformers, possibly with side-chain solvated alpha-helical structures. However, the ECD data on the noncovalent bonding in the 5+ to 13+ ions, determined overall in 69 of the 75 interresidue sites, shows that thermal unfolding proceeds via a diversity of intermediates whose conformational characteristics also depend on charge site locations. As occurs with increased acidity in solution, adding 6 protons to the 5+ ions completely destroys their tertiary noncovalent bonding. However, solvation of the newly protonated sites to the backbone instead increases the stability of the secondary structure (possibly an alpha-helix) of these gaseous ions, while in solution these new sites aid denaturation by solvation in the aqueous medium. Extensive ion equilibration can lead to even more compact and diverse conformers. The three-state unfolding of gaseous ubiquitin appears to involve ensembles of individual chain conformations in a "folding funnel" of parallel reaction paths. This also provides a further caution for characterizing solution conformers from their gas-phase behavior.

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