The quaternary structure is an important feature regulating protein function. Native mass spectrometry contributes to untangling quaternary structures by preserving the integrity of protein complexes in the gas phase. Tandem mass spectrometry by collision-induced dissociation (CID) can then be used to release subunits from these intact complexes, thereby providing structural information on the stoichiometry and topology. Cumulatively, such studies have revealed the preferred release of peripheral subunits during CID. In contrast, here we describe and focus on dissociation pathways that release nonperipheral subunits from hetero-complexes in CID at high collision energies. We find that nonperipheral subunits are ejected with a high propensity, as a consequence of sequential dissociation events, upon initial removal of peripheral subunits. Alternatively, nonperipheral subunits can be released directly from a charge-reduced or an elongated intact complex. As demonstrated here for a range of protein assemblies, releasing nonperipheral subunits under controlled conditions may provide unique structural information on the stoichiometry and topology of protein complexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15799–15805
Number of pages7
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2020


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