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The ability to transfer intact proteins and protein complexes into the gas phase by electrospray ionization (ESI) has opened up numerous mass spectrometry (MS)-based avenues for exploring biomolecular structure and function. However, many details regarding the ESI process and the properties of gaseous analyte ions are difficult to decipher when relying solely on experimental data. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations can provide additional insights into the behavior of ESI droplets and protein ions. This review is geared primarily towards experimentalists who wish to adopt MD simulations as a complementary research tool. We touch on basic points such as force fields, the choice of a proper water model, GPU-acceleration, possible artifacts, as well as shortcomings of current MD models. Following this technical overview, we highlight selected applications. Simulations on aqueous droplets confirm that "native" ESI culminates in protein ion release via the charged residue model. MD-generated charge states and collision cross sections match experimental data. Gaseous protein ions produced by native ESI retain much of their solution structure. Moving beyond classical fixed-charge algorithms, we discuss a simple strategy that captures the mobile nature of H+ within gaseous biomolecules. These mobile proton simulations confirm the high propensity of gaseous proteins to form salt bridges, as well as the occurrence of charge migration during collision-induced unfolding and dissociation. It is hoped that this review will promote the use of MD simulations in ESI-related research. We also hope to encourage the development of improved algorithms for charged droplets and gaseous biomolecular ions.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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