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Anal Chem. 2011 May 15;83(10):3881-9. doi: 10.1021/ac2003906. Epub 2011 Apr 27.

Determinants of gas-phase disassembly behavior in homodimeric protein complexes with related yet divergent structures.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Arizona, 1306 East University Boulevard, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA.


The overall structure of a protein-protein complex reflects an intricate arrangement of noncovalent interactions. Whereas intramolecular interactions confer secondary and tertiary structure to individual subunits, intermolecular interactions lead to quaternary structure--the ordered aggregation of separate polypeptide chains into multisubunit assemblies. The specific ensemble of noncovalent contacts dictates the stability of subunit folds, enforces protein-protein binding specificity, and determines multimer stability. Consequently, noncovalent architecture is likely to play a role in the gas-phase dissociation of these assemblies during tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). To further advance the applicability of MS/MS to analytical problems in structural biology, a better understanding of the interplay between the structures and fragmentation behaviors of noncovalent protein complexes is essential. The present work constitutes a systematic study of model protein homodimers (bacteriophage N15 Cro, bacteriophage λ Cro, and bacteriophage P22 Arc) with related but divergent structures, both in terms of subunit folds and protein-protein interfaces. Because each of these dimers has a well-characterized structure (solution and/or crystal structure), specific noncovalent features could be correlated with gas-phase disassembly patterns as studied by collision-induced dissociation, surface-induced dissociation, and ion mobility. Of the several respects in which the dimers differed in structure, the presence or absence of intermolecular electrostatic contacts exerted the most significant influence on the gas-phase dissociation behavior. This is attributed to the well-known enhancement of ionic interactions in the absence of bulk solvent. Because salt bridges are general contributors to both intermolecular and intramolecular stability in protein complexes, these observations are broadly applicable to aid in the interpretation or prediction of dissociation spectra for noncovalent protein assemblies.

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