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Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry





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Various activation methods are available for the fragmentation of gaseous protein complexes produced by electrospray ionization (ESI). Such experiments can potentially yield insights into quaternary structure. Collision-induced dissociation (CID) is the most widely used fragmentation technique. Unfortunately, CID of protein complexes is dominated by the ejection of highly charged monomers, a process that does not yield any structural insights. Using hemoglobin (Hb) as a model system, this work examines under what conditions CID generates structurally informative subcomplexes. Native ESI mainly produced tetrameric Hb ions. In addition, "noncanonical" hexameric and octameric complexes were observed. CID of all these species [(αβ)2, (αβ)3, and (αβ)4] predominantly generated highly charged monomers. In addition, we observed hexamer → tetramer + dimer dissociation, implying that hexamers have a tetramer··dimer architecture. Similarly, the observation of octamer → two tetramer dissociation revealed that octamers have a tetramer··tetramer composition. Gas-phase candidate structures of Hb assemblies were produced by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Ion mobility spectrometry was used to identify the most likely candidates. Our data reveal that the capability of CID to produce structurally informative subcomplexes depends on the fate of protein-protein interfaces after transfer into the gas phase. Collapse of low affinity interfaces conjoins the corresponding subunits and favors CID via monomer ejection. Structurally informative subcomplexes are formed only if low affinity interfaces do not undergo a major collapse. However, even in these favorable cases CID is still dominated by monomer ejection, requiring careful analysis of the experimental data for the identification of structurally informative subcomplexes.

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