Harry J Sterling

University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, MO, United States

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Publications (16)82.33 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Electrothermal supercharging of protein ions formed by electrospray ionization from buffered aqueous solutions results in significant increases to both the maximum and average charge states compared to native mass spectrometry in which ions are formed from the same solutions but with lower spray potentials. For eight of the nine proteins investigated, the maximum charge states of protonated ions formed from native solutions with electrothermal supercharging is greater than those obtained from conventional denaturing solutions consisting of water/methanol/acid, although the average charging is slightly lower owing to contributions of small populations of more folded low charge-state structures. Under these conditions, electrothermal supercharging is slightly less effective for anions than for cations. Equivalent sequence coverage (80%) is obtained with electron transfer dissociation of the same high charge-state ion of cytochrome c formed by electrothermal supercharging from native solutions and from denaturing solutions. Electrothermal supercharging should be advantageous for combining structural studies of proteins in native environments with mass spectrometers that have limited high m/z capabilities and for significantly improving tandem mass spectrometry performance for protein ions formed from solutions in which the molecules have native structures and activities.
    Analytical Chemistry 11/2012; · 5.70 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The formation of high charge-state protein ions with nanoelectrospray ionization (nESI) from purely aqueous ammonium bicarbonate solutions at neutral pH, where the proteins have native or native-like conformations prior to ESI droplet formation, is demonstrated. This "electrothermal" supercharging method depends on the temperature of the instrument entrance capillary, the nESI spray potential, and the solution ionic strength and buffer, although other factors almost certainly contribute. Mass spectra obtained with electrothermal supercharging appear similar to those obtained from denaturing solutions where charging beyond the total number of basic sites can be achieved. For example, a 17+ ion of bovine ubiquitin was formed by nESI of a 100 mM ammonium bicarbonate, pH 7.0, solution, which is three more charges than the total number of basic amino acids plus the N-terminus. Heating of the ESI droplets in the vacuum/atmosphere interface and the concomitant denaturation of the protein in the ESI droplets prior to ion formation appears to be the primary origin of the very high charge-state ions formed from these purely aqueous, buffered solutions. nESI mass spectra resembling those obtained under traditional native or denaturing conditions can be reversibly obtained simply by toggling the spray voltage between low and high values.
    Analytical Chemistry 03/2012; 84(8):3795-801. · 5.70 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The effects of aqueous solution supercharging on the solution- and gas-phase structures of two protein complexes were investigated using traveling-wave ion mobility-mass spectrometry (TWIMS-MS). Low initial concentrations of m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) in the electrospray ionization (ESI) solution can effectively increase the charge of concanavalin A dimers and tetramers, but at higher m-NBA concentrations, the increases in charge are accompanied by solution-phase dissociation of the dimers and up to a ~22% increase in the collision cross section (CCS) of the tetramers. With just 0.8% m-NBA added to the ESI solution of a ~630 kDa anthrax toxin octamer complex, the average charge is increased by only ~4% compared with the "native" complex, but it is sufficiently destabilized so that extensive gas-phase fragmentation occurs in the relatively high pressure regions of the TWIMS device. Anthrax toxin complexes exist in either a prechannel or a transmembrane channel state. With m-NBA, the prechannel state of the complex has the same CCS/charge ratio in the gas phase as the transmembrane channel state of the same complex formed without m-NBA, yet undergoes extensive dissociation, indicating that destabilization from supercharging occurs in the ESI droplet prior to ion formation and is not a result of Coulombic destabilization in the gas phase as a result of higher charging. These results demonstrate that the supercharging of large protein complexes is the result of conformational changes induced by the reagents in the ESI droplets, where enrichment of the supercharging reagent during droplet evaporation occurs.
    Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry 12/2011; 23(2):191-200. · 3.59 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The efficacy of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as a supercharging reagent for protein ions formed by electrospray ionization from aqueous solution and the mechanism for supercharging were investigated. Addition of small amounts of DMSO to aqueous solutions containing hen egg white lysozyme or equine myoglobin results in a lowering of charge, whereas a significant increase in charge occurs at higher concentrations. Results from both near-UV circular dichroism spectroscopy and solution-phase hydrogen/deuterium exchange mass spectrometry indicate that DMSO causes a compaction of the native structure of these proteins at low concentration, but significant unfolding occurs at ~63% and ~43% DMSO for lysozyme and myoglobin, respectively. The DMSO concentrations required to denature these two proteins in bulk solution are ~3-5 times higher than the concentrations required for the onset of supercharging, consistent with a significantly increased concentration of this high boiling point supercharging reagent in the ESI droplet as preferential evaporation of water occurs. DMSO is slightly more basic than m-nitrobenzyl alcohol and sulfolane, two other supercharging reagents, based on calculated proton affinity and gas-phase basicity values both at the B3LYP and MP2 levels of theory, and all three of these supercharging reagents are significantly more basic than water. These results provide additional evidence that the origin of supercharging from aqueous solution is the result of chemical and/or thermal denaturation that occurs in the ESI droplet as the concentration of these supercharging reagents increases, and that proton transfer reactivity does not play a significant role in the charge enhancement observed.
    Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry 07/2011; 22(7):1178-86. · 3.59 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Effects of covalent intramolecular bonds, either native disulfide bridges or chemical crosslinks, on ESI supercharging of proteins from aqueous solutions were investigated. Chemically modifying cytochrome c with up to seven crosslinks or ubiquitin with up to two crosslinks did not affect the average or maximum charge states of these proteins in the absence of m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA), but the extent of supercharging induced by m-NBA increased with decreasing numbers of crosslinks. For the model random coil polypeptide reduced/alkylated RNase A, a decrease in charging with increasing m-NBA concentration attributable to reduced surface tension of the ESI droplet was observed, whereas native RNase A electrosprayed from these same solutions exhibited enhanced charging. The inverse relationship between the extent of supercharging and the number of intramolecular crosslinks for folded proteins, as well as the absence of supercharging for proteins that are random coils in aqueous solution, indicate that conformational restrictions induced by the crosslinks reduce the extent of supercharging. These results provide additional evidence that protein and protein complex supercharging from aqueous solution is primarily due to partial or significant unfolding that occurs as a result of chemical and/or thermal denaturation induced by the supercharging reagent late in the ESI droplet lifetime.
    Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 03/2011; 13(41):18288-96. · 3.83 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The protein transporter anthrax lethal toxin is composed of protective antigen (PA), a transmembrane translocase, and lethal factor (LF), a cytotoxic enzyme. After its assembly into holotoxin complexes, PA forms an oligomeric channel that unfolds LF and translocates it into the host cell. We report the crystal structure of the core of a lethal toxin complex to 3.1-Å resolution; the structure contains a PA octamer bound to four LF PA-binding domains (LF(N)). The first α-helix and β-strand of each LF(N) unfold and dock into a deep amphipathic cleft on the surface of the PA octamer, which we call the α clamp. The α clamp possesses nonspecific polypeptide binding activity and is functionally relevant to efficient holotoxin assembly, PA octamer formation, and LF unfolding and translocation. This structure provides insight into the mechanism of translocation-coupled protein unfolding.
    Nature Structural & Molecular Biology 10/2010; 17(11):1383-90. · 11.90 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The effects of two supercharging reagents, m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) and sulfolane, on the charge-state distributions and conformations of myoglobin ions formed by electrospray ionization were investigated. Addition of 0.4% m-NBA to aqueous ammonium acetate solutions of myoglobin results in an increase in the maximum charge state from 9+ to 19+, and an increase in the average charge state from 7.9+ to 11.7+, compared with solutions without m-NBA. The extent of supercharging with sulfolane on a per mole basis is lower than that with m-NBA, but comparable charging was obtained at higher concentration. Arrival time distributions obtained from traveling wave ion mobility spectrometry show that the higher charge state ions that are formed with these supercharging reagents are significantly more unfolded than lower charge state ions. Results from circular dichroism spectroscopy show that sulfolane can act as chemical denaturant, destabilizing myoglobin by ∼1.5 kcal/mol/M at 25°C. Because these supercharging reagents have low vapor pressures, aqueous droplets are preferentially enriched in these reagents as evaporation occurs. Less evaporative cooling will occur after the droplets are substantially enriched in the low volatility supercharging reagent, and the droplet temperature should be higher compared with when these reagents are not present. Protein unfolding induced by chemical and/or thermal denaturation in the electrospray droplet appears to be the primary origin of the enhanced charging observed for noncovalent protein complexes formed from aqueous solutions that contain these supercharging reagents, although other factors almost certainly influence the extent of charging as well.
    Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry 10/2010; 21(10):1762-74. · 3.59 Impact Factor
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    Harry J Sterling, Evan R Williams
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    ABSTRACT: Amide hydrogen/deuterium exchange (HDX) rate constants of bovine ubiquitin in an ammonium acetate solution containing 1% of the electrospray ionization (ESI) "supercharging" reagent m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) were obtained using top-down, electron transfer dissociation (ETD) tandem mass spectrometry (MS). The supercharging reagent replaces the acid and temperature "quench" step in the conventional MS approach to HDX experiments by causing rapid protein denaturation to occur in the ESI droplet. The higher charge state ions that are produced with m-NBA are more unfolded, as measured by ion mobility, and result in higher fragmentation efficiency and higher sequence coverage with ETD. Single amino acid resolution was obtained for 44 of 72 exchangeable amide sites, and summed kinetic data were obtained for regions of the protein where adjacent fragment ions were not observed, resulting in an overall spatial resolution of 1.3 residues. Comparison of these results with previous values from NMR indicates that the supercharging reagent does not cause significant structural changes to the protein in the initial ESI solution and that scrambling or back-exchange is minimal. This new method for top-down HDX-MS enables real-time kinetic data measurements under physiological conditions, similar to those obtained using NMR, with comparable spatial resolution and significantly better sensitivity.
    Analytical Chemistry 10/2010; · 5.70 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Anthrax is caused by strains of Bacillus anthracis that produce two key virulence factors, anthrax toxin (Atx) and a poly-gamma-D-glutamic acid capsule. Atx is comprised of three proteins: protective antigen (PA) and two enzymes, lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF). To disrupt cell function, these components must assemble into holotoxin complexes, which contain either a ring-shaped homooctameric or homoheptameric PA oligomer bound to multiple copies of LF and/or EF, producing lethal toxin (LT), edema toxin, or mixtures thereof. Once a host cell endocytoses these complexes, PA converts into a membrane-inserted channel that translocates LF and EF into the cytosol. LT can assemble on host cell surfaces or extracellularly in plasma. We show that, under physiological conditions in bovine plasma, LT complexes containing heptameric PA aggregate and inactivate more readily than LT complexes containing octameric PA. LT complexes containing octameric PA possess enhanced stability, channel-forming activity, and macrophage cytotoxicity relative to those containing heptameric PA. Under physiological conditions, multiple biophysical probes reveal that heptameric PA can prematurely adopt the channel conformation, but octameric PA complexes remain in their soluble prechannel configuration, which allows them to resist aggregation and inactivation. We conclude that PA may form an octameric oligomeric state as a means to produce a more stable and active LT complex that could circulate freely in the blood.
    Journal of Molecular Biology 06/2010; 399(5):741-58. · 3.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry (MS) is a powerful method for analyzing the active forms of macromolecular complexes of biomolecules. However, these solutions often contain high concentrations of salts and/or detergents that adversely effect ESI performance by making ion formation less reproducible, causing severe adduction or ion suppression. Many methods for separating complexes from nonvolatile additives are routinely used with ESI-MS, but these methods may not be appropriate for complexes that require such stabilizers for activity. Here, the effects of buffer loading using concentrations of ammonium acetate ranging from 0.22 to 1.41 M on the ESI mass spectra of a solution containing a domain truncation mutant of a sigma(54) activator from Aquifex aeolicus were studied. This 44.9 kDa protein requires the presence of millimolar concentrations of Mg(2+), BeF(3)(-), and ADP, (at approximately 60 degrees C) to assemble into an active homo-hexamer. Addition of ammonium acetate can improve signal stability and reproducibility, and can significantly lower adduction and background signals. However, at higher concentrations, the relative ion abundance of the hexamer is diminished, while that of the constituent monomer is enhanced. These results are consistent with loss of enzymatic activity as measured by ATP hydrolysis and indicate that the high concentration of ammonium acetate interferes with assembly of the hexamer. This shows that buffer loading with ammonium acetate is effective for obtaining ESI signal for complexes that require high concentrations of essential salts, but can interfere with formation of, and/or destabilize complexes by disrupting crucial electrostatic interactions at high concentration.
    Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry 02/2010; 21(6):1045-9. · 3.59 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Anthrax toxin is comprised of protective antigen (PA), lethal factor (LF), and edema factor (EF). These proteins are individually nontoxic; however, when PA assembles with LF and EF, it produces lethal toxin and edema toxin, respectively. Assembly occurs either on cell surfaces or in plasma. In each milieu, PA assembles into a mixture of heptameric and octameric complexes that bind LF and EF. While octameric PA is the predominant form identified in plasma under physiological conditions (pH 7.4, 37°C), heptameric PA is more prevalent on cell surfaces. The difference between these two environments is that the anthrax toxin receptor (ANTXR) binds to PA on cell surfaces. It is known that the extracellular ANTXR domain serves to stabilize toxin complexes containing the PA heptamer by preventing premature PA channel formation--a process that inactivates the toxin. The role of ANTXR in PA oligomerization and in the stabilization of toxin complexes containing octameric PA are not understood. Using a fluorescence assembly assay, we show that the extracellular ANTXR domain drives PA oligomerization. Moreover, a dimeric ANTXR construct increases the extent of and accelerates the rate of PA assembly relative to a monomeric ANTXR construct. Mass spectrometry analysis shows that heptameric and octameric PA oligomers bind a full stoichiometric complement of ANTXR domains. Electron microscopy and circular dichroism studies reveal that the two different PA oligomers are equally stabilized by ANTXR interactions. We propose that PA oligomerization is driven by dimeric ANTXR complexes on cell surfaces. Through their interaction with the ANTXR, toxin complexes containing heptameric and octameric PA oligomers are similarly stabilized. Considering both the relative instability of the PA heptamer and extracellular assembly pathway identified in plasma, we propose a means to regulate the development of toxin gradients around sites of infection during anthrax pathogenesis.
    PLoS ONE 01/2010; 5(11):e13888. · 3.73 Impact Factor
  • Biophysical Journal 01/2010; 98. · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A common challenge with studies of proteins in vitro is determining which constructs and conditions are most physiologically relevant. sigma(54) activators are proteins that undergo regulated assembly to form an active ATPase ring that enables transcription by sigma(54)-polymerase. Previous studies of AAA(+) ATPase domains from sigma(54) activators have shown that some are heptamers, while others are hexamers. Because active oligomers assemble from off-state dimers, it was thought that even-numbered oligomers should dominate, and that heptamer formation would occur when individual domains of the activators, rather than the intact proteins, were studied. Here we present results from electrospray ionization mass spectrometry experiments characterizing the assembly states of intact NtrC4 (a sigma(54) activator from Aquifex aeolicus, an extreme thermophile), as well as its ATPase domain alone, and regulatory-ATPase and ATPase-DNA binding domain combinations. We show that the full-length and activated regulatory-ATPase proteins form hexamers, whereas the isolated ATPase domain, unactivated regulatory-ATPase, and ATPase-DNA binding domain form heptamers. Activation of the N-terminal regulatory domain is the key factor stabilizing the hexamer form of the ATPase, relative to the heptamer.
    Journal of Molecular Biology 09/2009; 393(3):634-43. · 3.91 Impact Factor
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    Harry J Sterling, Evan R Williams
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    ABSTRACT: The use of m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) to enhance charging of noncovalent complexes formed by electrospray ionization from aqueous solutions was investigated. Addition of up to 1% m-NBA can result in a significant increase in the average charging of complexes, ranging from approximately 13% for the homo-heptamer of NtrC4-RC (317 kDa; maximum charge state increases from 42+ to 44+) to approximately 49% for myoglobin (17.6 kDa; maximum charge state increases from 9+ to 16+). Charge state distributions of larger complexes obtained from heated solutions to which no m-NBA was added are remarkably similar to those containing small amounts of m-NBA. Dissociation of the complexes through identical channels both upon addition of higher concentrations of m-NBA and heating is observed. These results indicate that the enhanced charging upon addition of m-NBA to aqueous electrospray solutions is a result of droplet heating owing to the high boiling point of m-NBA, which results in a change in the higher-order structure and/or dissociation of the complexes. For monomeric proteins and small complexes, the enhancement of charging is lower for heated aqueous solutions than from solutions with m-NBA because rapid folding of proteins from heated solutions that do not contain m-NBA can occur after the electrospray droplet is formed and is evaporatively cooled.
    Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry 08/2009; 20(10):1933-43. · 3.59 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The assembly of bacterial toxins and virulence factors is critical to their function, but the regulation of assembly during infection has not been studied. We begin to address this question using anthrax toxin as a model. The protective antigen (PA) component of the toxin assembles into ring-shaped homooligomers that bind the two other enzyme components of the toxin, lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF), to form toxic complexes. To disrupt the host, these toxic complexes are endocytosed, such that the PA oligomer forms a membrane-spanning channel that LF and EF translocate through to enter the cytosol. Using single-channel electrophysiology, we show that PA channels contain two populations of conductance states, which correspond to two different PA pre-channel oligomers observed by electron microscopy—the well-described heptamer and a novel octamer. Mass spectrometry demonstrates that the PA octamer binds four LFs, and assembly routes leading to the octamer are populated with even-numbered, dimeric and tetrameric, PA intermediates. Both heptameric and octameric PA complexes can translocate LF and EF with similar rates and efficiencies. Here, we report a 3.2-Å crystal structure of the PA octamer. The octamer comprises ∼ 20–30% of the oligomers on cells, but outside of the cell, the octamer is more stable than the heptamer under physiological pH. Thus, the PA octamer is a physiological, stable, and active assembly state capable of forming lethal toxins that may withstand the hostile conditions encountered in the bloodstream. This assembly mechanism may provide a novel means to control cytotoxicity.
    Journal of Molecular Biology 01/2009; · 3.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The mitotic arrest-deficient protein Mad1 forms a complex with Mad2, which is required for imposing mitotic arrest on cells in which the spindle assembly is perturbed. By mass spectrometry of affinity-purified Mad2-associated factors, we identified the translocated promoter region (Tpr), a component of the nuclear pore complex (NPC), as a novel Mad2-interacting protein. Tpr directly binds to Mad1 and Mad2. Depletion of Tpr in HeLa cells disrupts the NPC localization of Mad1 and Mad2 during interphase and decreases the levels of Mad1-bound Mad2. Furthermore, depletion of Tpr decreases the levels of Mad1 at kinetochores during prometaphase, correlating with the inability of Mad1 to activate Mad2, which is required for inhibiting APC(Cdc20). These findings reveal an important role for Tpr in which Mad1-Mad2 proteins are regulated during the cell cycle and mitotic spindle checkpoint signaling.
    Genes & Development 12/2008; 22(21):2926-31. · 12.44 Impact Factor