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Variable-Temperature Electrospray Ionization for Temperature-Dependent Folding/Refolding Reactions of Proteins and Ligand Binding

Stabilities and structure(s) of proteins are directly coupled to their local environment or Gibbs free energy landscape as defined by solvent, temperature, pressure, and concentration. Solution pH, ionic strength, cofactors, chemical chaperones, and osmolytes perturb the chemical potential and induce further changes in structure, stability, and function. At present, no single analytical technique can monitor these effects in a single measurement. Mass spectrometry and ion mobility-mass spectrometry play increasingly essential roles in studies of proteins, protein complexes, and even membrane protein complexes; however, with few exceptions, the effects of the solution temperature on the stability and structure(s) of analytes have not been thoroughly investigated. This article describes a new variable-temperature electrospray ionization (vT-ESI) source that utilizes a thermoelectric chip to cool and heat the solution contained within the static ESI emitter. This design allows for solution temperatures to be varied from ∼5 to 98 °C with short equilibration times (<2 min) between precisely controlled temperature changes. The performance of the apparatus for vT-ESI-mass spectrometry and vT-ESI-ion mobility-mass spectrometry studies of cold- and heat-folding reactions is demonstrated using ubiquitin and frataxin. Instrument performance for studies on temperature-dependent ligand binding is shown using the chaperonin GroEL.

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