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Developing novel electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI MS) techniques to study higher order structure and interaction of biopolymers

Agya K Frimpong, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Mass spectrometry has enjoyed enormous popularity over the years for studying biological systems. The theme of this dissertation was to develop and use mass spectrometry based tools to solve five biologically oriented problems associated with protein architecture and extend the utility of these tools to study protein polymer conjugation. The first problem involved elucidating the false negatives of how proteins with few basic residues, forms highly charged ions in electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI MS). This study showed that the unfolding of polypeptide chains in solution leads to the emergence of highly charged protein ions in ESI MS mass spectra, even if the polypeptide chains lack a sufficient number of basic sites. In the second problem, a new technique was developed that can monitor small-scale conformational transitions that triggers protein activity and inactivity using porcine pepsin as a model protein. This work allowed us to revise a commonly accepted scenario of pepsin inactivation and denaturation. The physiological relevance of an enzyme-substrate complex was probed in our third problem. We observed by ESI MS that pepsin forms a facile complex with a substrate protein, N-lobe transferrin under mildly acidic pH. The observed complex could either be a true enzyme-substrate complex or may likely results from an electrostatically driven association. Our investigation suggested that the enzyme binds nonspecifically to substrate proteins under mild acidic pH conditions. The fourth problem dealt with the investigation of conformational heterogeneity of natively unstructured proteins using a combination of spectroscopic techniques and ESI MS as tools. It was observed that four different conformations of alpha-synuclein coexist in equilibrium. One of these conformations appeared to be tightly folded. Conclusions regarding the nature of these states were made by correlating the abundance evolution of the conformers as a function of pH with earlier spectroscopic measurements. The final problem was aimed at monitoring conformational transitions in polypeptide and polymer segments of PEGylated proteins using PEGylated ubiquitin as a model system. This studies suggested that for a PEGylated protein, polypeptides maintain their folded conformation to a greater extent whiles the polymer segments are bound freely to the protein.

Subject Area

Analytical chemistry

Recommended Citation

Frimpong, Agya K, "Developing novel electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI MS) techniques to study higher order structure and interaction of biopolymers" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379959.