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The ribosomal stalk complex in Escherichia coli consists of L10 and four copies of L7/L12, and is largely responsible for binding and recruiting translation factors. Structural characterisation of this stalk complex is difficult, primarily due to its dynamics. Here, we apply mass spectrometry to follow post-translational modifications and their effect on structural changes of the stalk proteins on intact ribosomes. Our results show that increased acetylation of L12 occurs during the stationary phase on ribosomes harvested from cells grown under optimal conditions. For cells grown in minimal medium, L12 acetylation and processing is altered, resulting in deficient removal of N-terminal methionine in approximately 50% of the L12 population, while processed L12 is almost 100% acetylated. Our results show also that N-acetylation of L12 correlates with an increased stability of the stalk complex in the gas phase. To investigate further the basis of this increased stability, we applied a solution phase hydrogen deuterium exchange protocol to compare the rate of deuterium incorporation in the proteins L9, L10, L11 and L12 as well as the acetylated form of L12 (L7), in situ on the ribosome. Results show that deuterium incorporation is consistently slower for L7 relative to L12 and for L10 when L7 is predominant. Our results imply a tightening of the interaction between L7 and L10 relative to that between L12 and L10. Since acetylation is predominant when cells are grown in minimal medium, we propose that these modifications form part of the cell's strategy to increase stability of the stalk complex under conditions of stress. More generally, our results demonstrate that it is possible to discern the influence of a 42 Da post-translational modification by mass spectrometry and to record subtle changes in hydrogen/deuterium exchange within the context of an intact 2.5 MDa particle.

Original publication




Journal article


J Mol Biol

Publication Date





404 - 414


Acetylation, Escherichia coli, Escherichia coli Proteins, Mass Spectrometry, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Molecular Weight, Protein Processing, Post-Translational, Protein Structure, Quaternary, Protein Subunits, Ribosomal Proteins, Ribosomes