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Biophys J. 2015 Jan 6;108(1):107-15. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2014.11.013.

Quantitative mapping of protein structure by hydroxyl radical footprinting-mediated structural mass spectrometry: a protection factor analysis.

Author information

Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.
Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. Electronic address:

Erratum in

  • Biophys J. 2015 Feb 3;108(3):780.


Measurements from hydroxyl radical footprinting (HRF) provide rich information about the solvent accessibility of amino acid side chains of a protein. Traditional HRF data analyses focus on comparing the difference in the modification/footprinting rate of a specific site to infer structural changes across two protein states, e.g., between a free and ligand-bound state. However, the rate information itself is not fully used for the purpose of comparing different protein sites within a protein on an absolute scale. To provide such a cross-site comparison, we present a new, to our knowledge, data analysis algorithm to convert the measured footprinting rate constant to a protection factor (PF) by taking into account the known intrinsic reactivity of amino acid side chain. To examine the extent to which PFs can be used for structural interpretation, this PF analysis is applied to three model systems where radiolytic footprinting data are reported in the literature. By visualizing structures colored with the PF values for individual peptides, a rational view of the structural features of various protein sites regarding their solvent accessibility is revealed, where high-PF regions are buried and low-PF regions are more exposed to the solvent. Furthermore, a detailed analysis correlating solvent accessibility and local structural contacts for gelsolin shows a statistically significant agreement between PF values and various structure measures, demonstrating that the PFs derived from this PF analysis readily explain fundamental HRF rate measurements. We also tested this PF analysis on alternative, chemical-based HRF data, showing improved correlations of structural properties of a model protein barstar compared to examining HRF rate data alone. Together, this PF analysis not only permits a novel, to our knowledge, approach of mapping protein structures by using footprinting data, but also elevates the use of HRF measurements from a qualitative, cross-state comparison to a quantitative, cross-site assessment of protein structures in the context of individual conformational states of interest.

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