Conformer selection of protein ions by ion mobility in a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer
Electrospray mass spectra of multiply charged protein molecules show two distinct charge state distributions proposed to correspond to a more highly charged, open conformational form and a lower charged, folded form. Elastic collisions carried out in the radiofrequency-only collision cell of a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer have dramatic effects on the appearance of the mass spectra. The different cross sectional areas of the conformers allow preferential selection of one charge state distribution over the other on the basis of ion mobility. Preferential selection is dependent on the nature and pressure of the target gas as well as the nature of the protein. In the case of positively charged horse heart apomyoglobin (MW 16,951 da), a high charge state distribution centered around (M + 20H)20+ predominates at low target gas pressures and a second distribution centered around (M + 10H)10+ predominates at high target gas pressures. Bimodal distributions are observed at intermediate pressures and, remarkably, charge states between the two distributions are not effectively populated under most of the conditions examined. Hard sphere collision calculations show large differences in collision frequencies and in the corresponding kinetic energy losses for the two conformational states and they demonstrate that the observed charge state selectivity can be explained through elastic collisions.
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