Location of protonated sites in electrospray-ionized gas-phase peptides and proteins was performed with tandem mass spectrometry using ion activation by both electron capture dissociation (ECD) and collisional activation dissociation (CAD). Charge-carrying sites were assigned based on the increment in the charge state of fragment ions compared to that of the previous fragment in the same series. The property of ECD to neutralize preferentially the least basic site was confirmed by the analysis of three thousand ECD mass spectra of doubly charged tryptic peptides. Multiply charged cations of bradykinin, neurotensin and melittin were studied in detail. For n+ precursors, ECD revealed the positions of (n - 1) most basic sites, while CAD could in principle locate all n charges. However, ECD introduced minimal proton mobilization and produced more conclusive data than CAD, for which N- and C-terminal data often disagreed. Consistent with the dominance of one charge conformer and its preservation in ECD, the average charge states of complementary fragments of n+ ions almost always added up to (n - 1)+, while the similar figure in CAD often deviated from n+, indicating extensive charge isomerization under collisional excitation. For bradykinin and neurotensin, the charge assignments were largely in agreement with the intrinsic gas-phase basicity of the respective amino acid residues. For melittin ions in higher charge states, ECD revealed the charging at both intrinsically basic as well as at less basic residues, which was attributed to charge sharing with other groups due to the presence of secondary and higher order structures in this larger polypeptide.
- Electron capture dissociation
- Proton localization