Electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry (MS) is a powerful analytical tool for elucidating structural details of proteins in solution especially when coupled with amide hydrogen/deuterium (H/D) exchange analysis. ESI charge-state distributions and the envelopes of charges they form from proteins can provide an abundance of information on solution conformations that is not readily available through other biophysical techniques such as near ultraviolet circular dichroism (CD) and tryptophan fluorescence. The most compelling reason for the use of ESI-MS over nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) for measuring H/D after exchange is that larger proteins and lesser amounts of samples can be studied. In addition, MS can provide structural details on transient or folding intermediates that may not be accessible by CD, fluorescence, and NMR because these techniques measure the average properties of large populations of proteins in solution. Correlations between measured H/D and calculated parameters that are often available from crystallographic data can be used to extend the range of structural details obtained on proteins. Molecular dynamics and energy minimization by simulation techniques such as assisted model building with energy refinement (AMBER) force field can be very useful in providing structural models of proteins that rationalize the experimental H/D exchange results. Charge-state envelopes and H/D exchange information from ESI-MS data used complementarily with NMR and CD data provides the most powerful approach available to understanding the structures and dynamics of proteins in solution.
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