The potential of electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry (MS) to detect non-covalent protein complexes has been demonstrated repeteadly. However, questions about correlation of the solution and gas-phase structures of these complexes still produce vigorous scientific discussion. Here, we demonstrate the evaluation of the gas-phase binding of non-covalent protein complexes formed between bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor (BPTI) and its target enzymes over a wide range of dissociation constants. Non-covalent protein complexes were detected by ESI-MS. The abundance of the complex ions in the mass spectra is less than expected from the values of the dissociation constants of the complexes in solution. Collisionally activated dissociation (CAD) tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) and a collision model for ion activation were used to evaluate the binding of non-covalent complexes in the gas phase. The internal energy required to induce dissociation was calculated for three collision gases (Ne, Ar, Kr) over a wide range of collision gas pressures and energies using an electrospray ionization source. The order of binding energies of the gas-phase ions for non-covalent protein complexes formed by the ESI source and assessed using CAD-MS/MS appears to differ from that of the solution complexes. The implication is that solution structure of these complexes was not preserved in the gas phase. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.