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The binding of sodium ions to the transmembrane channel peptide gramicidin A has permitted the use of electrospray ionization mass spectrometry to study its conformation in different solvent environments. The mass spectra of the peptide in the various solvents suggest that different conformations of gramicidin A differ in their ability to bind metal ions. The data are consistent with monomeric behavior of gramicidin A in trifluoroethanol and dimethyl sulfoxide solutions, but reveal the presence of noncovalent intermolecular interactions in ethanol solution through the observation of heterodimers formed between the naturally occurring variants of the peptide. The addition of 50% v/v of water to the ethanolic solution causes changes in the circular dichroism spectrum of the peptide, suggestive of a shift in the equilibrium mixture of conformers present toward monomeric species, a result supported by its mass spectrum. The structure of gramicidin A in trifluoroethanol has also been investigated by hydrogen exchange measurements monitored by mass spectrometry. The observation of significant protection against exchange suggests that the monomeric peptide is highly structured in trifluoroethanol. The results indicate that mass spectrometry has the potential to probe the conformational behavior of neutral hydrophobic peptides in environments that mimic their functional states.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophys J

Publication Date





1010 - 1017


Circular Dichroism, Dimerization, Dimethyl Sulfoxide, Ethanol, Gramicidin, Mass Spectrometry, Membrane Proteins, Peptides, Protein Conformation, Protons, Sodium, Solvents, Trifluoroethanol