Time to face the fats: What can mass spectrometry reveal about the structure of lipids and their interactions with proteins?
Since the 1950s, X-ray crystallography has been the mainstay of structural biology, providing detailed atomic-level structures that continue to revolutionize our understanding of protein function. From recent advances in this discipline, a picture has emerged of intimate and specific interactions between lipids and proteins that has driven renewed interest in the structure of lipids themselves and raised intriguing questions as to the specificity and stoichiometry in lipid-protein complexes. Herein we demonstrate some of the limitations of crystallography in resolving critical structural features of ligated lipids and thus determining how these motifs impact protein binding. As a consequence, mass spectrometry must play an important and complementary role in unraveling the complexities of lipid-protein interactions. We evaluate recent advances and highlight ongoing challenges towards the twin goals of (1) complete structure elucidation of low, abundant, and structurally diverse lipids by mass spectrometry alone, and (2) assignment of stoichiometry and specificity of lipid interactions within protein complexes.