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Growing interest in micelles to protect membrane complexes during the transition from solution to gas phase prompts a better understanding of their properties. We have used ion mobility mass spectrometry to separate and assign detergent clusters formed from the n-trimethylammonium bromide series of detergents. We show that cluster size is independent of detergent concentration in solution, increases with charge state, but surprisingly decreases with alkyl chain length. This relationship contradicts the thermodynamics of micelle formation in solution. However, the liquid drop model, which considers both the surface energy and charge, correlates extremely well with the experimental cluster size. To explore further the properties of gas-phase micelles, we have performed collision-induced dissociation on them during tandem mass spectrometry. We observed both sequential asymmetric charge separation and neutral evaporation from the precursor ion cluster. Interestingly, however, we also found markedly different dissociation pathways for the longer alkyl chain detergents, with significantly fewer intermediate ions formed than for those with a shorter alkyl chain. These experiments provide an essential foundation for understanding the process of the gas-phase analysis of membrane protein complexes. Moreover they imply valuable mechanistic details of the protection afforded to protein complexes by detergent clusters during gas-phase activation processes.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





7160 - 7167