With the emergence of drag resistance and the genomic revolution, there has been a renewed interest in the genes that are responsible for the generation of bioactive natural products. Secondary metabolites of one major class are biosynthesized at one or more sites by ultralarge enzymes that carry covalent intermediates on phosphopantetheine arms. Because such intermediates are difficult to characterize in vitro, we have developed a new approach for streamlined detection of substrates, intermediates, and products attached to a phosphopantetheinyl arm of the carrier site. During vibrational activation of gas-phase carrier domains, facile elimination occurs in benchtop and Fourier-transform mass spectrometers alike. Phosphopantetheinyl ejections quickly reduce >100 kDa megaenzymes to <1000 Da ions for structural assignment of intermediates at <0.007 Da mass accuracy without proteolytic digestion. This "top down" approach quickly illuminated diverse acyl intermediates on the carrier domains of the nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs) or polyketide synthases (PKSs) found in the biosynthetic pathways of prodigiosin, pyoluteorin, mycosubtilin, nikkomycin, enterobactin, gramicidin, and several proteins from the orphan pksX gene cluster from Bacillus subtilis. By focusing on just those regions undergoing covalent chemistry, the method delivered clean proof for the reversible dehydration of hydroxymethylglutaryl-5- PksL via incorporation of 2H or 18O from the buffer. The facile nature of this revised assay will allow diverse laboratories to spearhead their NRPS-PKS projects with benchtop mass spectrometers.
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