Determination of the Gas-Phase Acidities of Oligopeptides

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Journal of Visualized Experiments









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Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment.

We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3CysNH2 (A3CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1) 11-16. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18.

The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.