Mass spectrometry of protein complexes: from origins to applications

Annu Rev Phys Chem. 2015 Apr;66:453-74. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physchem-040214-121732. Epub 2015 Jan 14.


Now routine is the ability to investigate soluble and membrane protein complexes in the gas phase of a mass spectrometer while preserving folded structure and ligand-binding properties. Several recent transformative developments have occurred to arrive at this point. These include advances in mass spectrometry instrumentation, particularly with respect to resolution; the ability to study intact membrane protein complexes released from detergent micelles; and the use of protein unfolding in the gas phase to obtain stability parameters. Together, these discoveries are providing unprecedented information on the compositional heterogeneity of biomacromolecules, the unfolding trajectories of multidomain proteins, and the stability imparted by ligand binding to both soluble and membrane-embedded protein complexes. We review these recent breakthroughs, highlighting the challenges that had to be overcome and the physicochemical insight that can now be gained from studying proteins and their assemblies in the gas phase.

Keywords: ion-mobility mass spectrometry; ionization mechanisms; membrane proteins; noncovalent complexes; protein-lipid interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / instrumentation
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Unfolding
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proteins