Protein post-translational modifications (PTMs) are critically important in regulating both protein structure and function, often in a rapid and reversible manner. Due to its sensitivity and vast applicability, mass spectrometry (MS) has become the technique of choice for analyzing PTMs. Whilst the "bottom-up' analytical approach, in which proteins are proteolyzed generating peptides for analysis by MS, is routinely applied and offers some advantages in terms of ease of analysis and lower limit of detection, "top-down" MS, describing the analysis of intact proteins, yields unique and highly valuable information on the connectivity and therefore combinatorial effect of multiple PTMs in the same polypeptide chain. In this review, the state of the art in top-down MS will be discussed, covering the main instrumental platforms and ion activation techniques. Moreover, the way that this approach can be used to gain insights on the combinatorial effect of multiple post-translational modifications and how this information can assist in studying physiologically relevant systems at the molecular level will also be addressed.
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