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J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2005 Mar;16(3):324-32.

Structural characterization of sialic acid synthase by electrospray mass spectrometry--a tetrameric enzyme composed of dimeric dimers.

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Institute of Chemistry, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan.


Sialic acid synthase (NeuB) encoded by the neuB gene catalyzes the condensation of N-acetylmannosamine and phospho(enol)pyruvate to form N-acetylneuraminic acid. The enzyme is essential for the biosynthesis of polysialic acid, a capsular sugar polymer functioning as a virulent factor and antiphagocytic barrier. This report demonstrates the first characterization on the quaternary structure of NeuB from Escherichia coli (EcNeuB) and Streptococcus agalactiae (SaNeuB) by nanoflow electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS). Under non-denaturing conditions, Tris buffer was observed to induce a higher ratio of tetramer/dimer of NeuB in the ESI mass spectra, providing supportive evidence for the existence of a "structurally-specific" tetramer. The instrument parameters were found to significantly affect the ratio of detected tetramer/dimer in ESI mass spectra. The harshest conditions, including high desolvation voltages and pressure in the collision cell, led to enhanced detection of the 160 kDa tetramer. The prevalence of dimeric form is likely the cause in loss of tetramer stability in gas-phase arising from insufficient collisional cooling, which implies an asymmetric assembly, possibly composed of dimeric dimers. Most interestingly, the hypothesis was further supported by chemical cross-linking of SaNeuB, in which the reaction of shorter linker yielded mainly the dimer whereas that of longer linker produced both dimer and tetramer. Furthermore, the ESI-MS analysis can reflect dramatic change of pH-dependent quaternary structure in association with enzyme activity, suggesting the tetrameric form may be the primary species responsible for the enzyme catalysis.

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