Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry
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Covalent modifications by reactive oxygen species can modulate the function and stability of proteins. Thermal unfolding experiments in solution are a standard tool for probing oxidation-induced stability changes. Complementary to such solution investigations, the stability of electrosprayed protein ions can be assessed in the gas phase by collision-induced unfolding (CIU) and ion-mobility spectrometry. A question that remains to be explored is whether oxidation-induced stability alterations in solution are mirrored by the CIU behavior of gaseous protein ions. Here, we address this question using chloramine-T-oxidized cytochrome c (CT-cyt c) as a model system. CT-cyt c comprises various proteoforms that have undergone MetO formation (+16 Da) and Lys carbonylation (LysCH2-NH2 → LysCHO, -1 Da). We found that CT-cyt c in solution was destabilized, with a ∼5 °C reduced melting temperature compared to unmodified controls. Surprisingly, CIU experiments revealed the opposite trend, i.e., a stabilization of CT-cyt c in the gas phase. To pinpoint the source of this effect, we performed proteoform-resolved CIU on CT-cyt c fractions that had been separated by cation exchange chromatography. In this way, it was possible to identify MetO formation at residue 80 as the key modification responsible for stabilization in the gas phase. Possibly, this effect is caused by newly formed contacts of the sulfoxide with aromatic residues in the protein core. Overall, our results demonstrate that oxidative modifications can affect protein stability in solution and in the gas phase very differently.