The role of mass spectrometry in structure elucidation of dynamic protein complexes

Annu Rev Biochem. 2007;76:167-93. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.76.061005.090816.


The fact that ions of macromolecular complexes produced by electrospray ionization can be maintained intact in a mass spectrometer has stimulated exciting new lines of research. In this review we chart the progress of this research from the observation of simple homo-oligomers to complex heterogeneous macromolecular assemblies of mega-Dalton proportions. The applications described herein not only confirm the status of mass spectrometry (MS) as a structural biology approach to complement X-ray analysis or electron microscopy, but also highlight unique attributes of the methodology. This is exemplified in studies of the biogenesis of macromolecular complexes and in the exchange of subunits between macromolecular complexes. Moreover, recent successes in revealing the overall subunit architecture of complexes are set to promote MS from a complementary approach to a structural biology tool in its own right.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Mass Spectrometry* / instrumentation
  • Mass Spectrometry* / methods
  • Mass Spectrometry* / statistics & numerical data
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Weight
  • Multiprotein Complexes* / chemistry
  • Multiprotein Complexes* / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Solutions / chemistry


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Protein Subunits
  • Solutions