Universal and sensitive determination of the quaternary organisation of macromolecular assemblies
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Native mass spectrometry (MS) is a tool that allows the structural investigation of protein complexes. It will not provide a structural model in atomic detail, but the sensitivity, speed, selectivity, unlimited mass range and accuracy of the analysis provides important advantages over other techniques. It’s sensitivity allows the investigation of endogenous protein complexes, and another major benefit of the method is that it can simultaneously analyze several species in one spectrum. If there is a heterogeneous population of protein complexes present in one sample, the one of interest can be specifically isolated for further studies.
Within this research field electrospray ionization is the most popular technique to ionize the proteins/protein complexes of interest. It is a gentle ionization method allowing the preservation of quaternary protein structures. Normally the protein complex is sprayed from a volatile buffer, compatible with the electrospray process.
A range of mass spectrometric approaches can be applied to investigate the biological systems. The exact mass of proteins can be determined, but also the stoichiometry of an assembly, its stability, dynamical behavior, conformation, subunit interaction sites and topological arrangement of the individual proteins within a complex.