Probing the conformational state of a truncated staphylococcal nuclease R using time of flight mass spectrometry with limited proteolysis

Eur J Biochem. 2001 Aug;268(15):4227-32. doi: 10.1046/j.1432-1327.2001.02337.x.


The conformational state of C-terminally truncated staphylococcal nuclease R (SNR135), with and without bound ligands, has been studied by performing limited proteolysis with a specific endoproteinase Glu-C followed by electrophoresis and mass spectrometry. Comparison of the accessibility of the cleavage sites shows that the C-terminal truncation of 14 amino-acid residues causes significant unfolding of the C-terminal part of alpha helix 1 and the center of alpha helix 2, but there is little effect on other regions of the nuclease, in particular the N-terminal subdomain, which includes the active site of the nuclease. The truncation also makes the overall conformation of the nuclease more loose and flexible. Binding of ligands makes helices 1 and 2 more resistant to protease Glu-C attack and converts the partially unfolded state to a native-like state, although the conformational stability of the SNR135 complex is still much lower than that of the full-length enzyme. The results suggest that the amino-acid residues around the active site in the truncated nuclease are arranged in a similar topology to those in the full-length nuclease. The study shows that there is a clear-cut correlation between protease susceptibility and conformational stability of the protein, and the initial proteolytic events are the most critical for evaluating the conformational features of the protein. This study demonstrates how mass spectrometry can be combined with limited proteolysis to observe conformational changes induced by ligand binding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Hydrolysis
  • Ligands
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Micrococcal Nuclease / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods
  • Staphylococcus / enzymology*
  • Time Factors


  • Ligands
  • Proteins
  • staphylococcal nuclease R
  • Micrococcal Nuclease
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • glutamyl endopeptidase