Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry in the subunit stoichiometry study of high mass non-covalent complexes
This study explores the potential of MALDI-TOF MS for the mass measurement of large non-covalent protein complexes. The following non-covalent complexes have been investigated: aerolysin from Aeromonas hydrophila (335 kDa) and α-haemolysin from Staphylococcus aureus (233 kDa) which are both cytolytic toxins, three enzymes known to be homotetramers in solution: bovine liver catalase (235 kDa), rabbit muscle pyruvate kinase (232 kDa), yeast alcohol dehydrogenase (147 kDa) and finally a lectin, concanavalin A (102 kDa). Three different matrix preparations were systematically tested under various conditions: ferulic acid dissolved in THF, 2,6-dihydroxyacetophenone in 20 mM aqueous ammonium citrate and a two-step sample preparation with sinapinic acid. It was possible to find a suitable combination of matrix and preparation type which allowed the molecularity of all complexes tested to be deduced from the MALDI mass spectrum. Trimeric and tetrameric intermediates accumulating during the formation of the active heptameric aerolysin complex were also identified, this allowing a formation mechanism to be proposed. The observation of large specific non-covalent complexes has been found to be dependent on the choice of matrix, the type of sample preparation used, the solvent evaporation speed, the pH of the resulting matrix-sample mixture and the number of shots acquired on a given area. From this set of experiments, some useful guidelines for the observation of large complexes by MALDI could therefore be deduced. Fast evaporation of the solvent is particularly necessary in the case of pH sensitive complexes. An ESMS study on the same non-covalent complexes indicated that, rather surprisingly, reliable results could be obtained by MALDI-TOF MS on several very large complexes (above 200 kDa) for which ESMS yielded no clear spectra.