Electrospray ionization has made possible the transference of non-covalently bound complexes from solution phase to high vacuum. In the process, a complex acquires a net charge and becomes amenable to measurement by MS. FTICR (Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance) MS allows these ions to be measured with sufficiently high resolution for the isotopomers of complexes of small proteins to be resolved from each other (true for complexes up to about 100 kDa for the most powerful FTICR instruments), which is of crucial significance in the interpretation of spectra. Results are presented for members of the S100 family of proteins, demonstrating how non-covalently bound complexes can be distinguished unambiguously from covalently bound species. Consideration relevant both to determination of binding constants in solution from the gas-phase results and to the elucidation of protein folding and unfolding in solution are discussed. The caveats inherent to the basic approach of using electrospray and MS to characterize protein complexes are weighed and evaluated.

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