Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Lars Konermann


Proteins are involved in virtually every biochemical process. A comprehensive characterization of factors that govern protein function is essential for understanding the biomedical aspects of human health. This dissertation aims to develop complementary mass spectrometry-based methods and apply them to solve problems pertaining to the area of protein structure, folding and dynamics.

‎Chapter 1 uses fast photochemical oxidation of proteins (FPOP) to characterize partially disordered conformers populated under semi-denaturing conditions. In FPOP, ·OH generated by laser photolysis of H2O2 introduces oxidative modifications at solvent accessible side chains. By contrast, buried sites are protected from radical attack. Using apomyoglobin (aMb), it was demonstrated that under optimized conditions undesired can be almost completely eliminated and detailed structural information can be obtained.

‎Chapter 3 combines FPOP with submillisecond mixing to enable studying early events in protein folding. aMb served as a model system for these measurements. Spatially-resolved changes in solvent accessibility follow the folding process. Data revealed that early aMb folding events are driven by both local and sequence-remote docking of hydrophobic side chains. Assembly of a partially formed scaffold after 0.2 ms is followed by stepwise consolidation that ultimately yields the native state. The submillisecond mixer used improved the time resolution by a factor of 50 compared to earlier FPOP experiments. Submillisecond mixing in conjunction with slower mixing techniques help monitor completes folding pathways, from fractions of a millisecond all the way to minutes.

‎Chapter 4 uses ion mobility mass spectrometry (IM-MS) to explore the structural relationship between semi folded solution and gas phase protein conformers. Collision cross sections (CCSs) provide a measure of analyte size. Mb was used as model system because it follows a sequential unfolding pathway that comprises two partially disordered states. IM-MS data showed that the degree of gas phase unfolding is not strongly correlated with the corresponding solution. Gas phase unfolding as well as collapse events can lead to disparities between gaseous and solution structures for partially unfolded proteins. IM-MS data on non-native conformers should therefore be interpreted with caution.

‎Chapter 5 uses HDX-MS to examine the role of conformational dynamics for the function of multi-protein molecular machines such as FoF1 ATP synthase. HDX-MS monitors backbone deuteration kinetics in the presence of D2O. Disordered segments exchange more rapidly than those in tightly folded regions. Measurements of spatially-resolved deuterium are performed using LC-MS. It was found that the H-bonding network of key power transmission elements is insensitive to PMF-induced mechanical stress. Unexpectedly, HDX-MS reveals a pronounced destabilization of the g C-terminus during rotational catalysis under PMF. The behavior of g is attributed to kinetic friction within the apical rotor bearing.