Enhancing Sensitivity of Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry of Peptides and Proteins Using Supercharging Agents.
ABSTRACT: Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) is often used as a mobile phase modifier to enhance reversed phase chromatographic performance. TFA adjusts solution pH and is an ion-pairing agent, but it is not typically suitable for electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) and liquid chromatography/MS (LC/MS) because of its significant signal suppression. Supercharging agents elevate peptide and protein charge states in ESI, increasing tandem MS (MS/MS) efficiency. Here, LC/MS protein supercharging was effected by adding agents to LC mobile phase solvents. Significantly, the ionization suppression generally observed with TFA was, for the most part, rescued by supercharging agents, with improved separation efficiency (higher number of theoretical plates) and lowered detection limits.
Project description:We recently reported the use of desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) as a novel interface to couple high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with mass spectrometry (MS) (Chem. Commun. 2011, 47, 4171). One of the benefits of such an interface is that post-column derivatization of separated analytes can be integrated with ionization via a "reactive" DESI approach in which a derivatizing reagent is doped into the spray solvent. The reactive DESI interface allows analyte desorption/ionization from the end of the chromatographic column with prompt MS detection; a short time delay of ~20 ms was demonstrated. In this study, we extended this application by "supercharging" proteins following HPLC separation using a DESI spray solvent containing supercharging reagents, m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) or sulfolane. Proteins (insulin, ubiquitin, lysozyme and ?-lactalbumin) eluted out of the LC column can be supercharged with the protein charge state distributions (CSDs) significantly increased (to higher charge), which would be advantageous for subsequent top-down MS analysis of proteins. Interestingly, supercharging combined with reactive DESI enhances tolerance towards trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), which is known to be a superior additive in the mobile phase for premium peptide/protein chromatographic separation but has severe signal suppression effects for conventional electrospray ionization (ESI). In comparison to electrosonic spray ionization (ESSI), a variant form of ESI, the sensitivity of protein analysis using LC/DESI-MS with the mobile phase containing TFA can be improved by up to 70-fold for lysozyme and ?-lactalbumin by including m-NBA in the DESI spray solvent. Presumably, by reducing TFA dissociation in the droplet, supercharging agents lower trifluoroacetate anion concentrations and concomitantly reduce ion pairing to analyte cationic sites. The reduced ion pairing therefore decreases the TFA signal suppression effect. The supercharging capability and the reduction of TFA signal suppression suggest that LC/DESI-MS is a valuable method for protein analysis.
Project description:Understanding the charging mechanism of electrospray ionization is central to overcoming shortcomings such as ion suppression or limited dynamic range, and explaining phenomena such as supercharging. Towards that end, we explore what accumulated observations reveal about the mechanism of electrospray. We introduce the idea of an intermediate region for electrospray ionization (and other ionization methods) to account for the facts that solution charge state distributions (CSDs) do not correlate with those observed by ESI-MS (the latter bear more charge) and that gas phase reactions can reduce, but not increase, the extent of charging. This region incorporates properties (e.g., basicities) intermediate between solution and gas phase. Assuming that droplet species polarize within the high electric field leads to equations describing ion emission resembling those from the equilibrium partitioning model. The equations predict many trends successfully, including CSD shifts to higher m/z for concentrated analytes and shifts to lower m/z for sprays employing smaller emitter opening diameters. From this view, a single mechanism can be formulated to explain how reagents that promote analyte charging ("supercharging") such as m-NBA, sulfolane, and 3-nitrobenzonitrile increase analyte charge from "denaturing" and "native" solvent systems. It is suggested that additives' Brønsted basicities are inversely correlated to their ability to shift CSDs to lower m/z in positive ESI, as are Brønsted acidities for negative ESI. Because supercharging agents reduce an analyte's solution ionization, excess spray charge is bestowed on evaporating ions carrying fewer opposing charges. Brønsted basicity (or acidity) determines how much ESI charge is lost to the agent (unavailable to evaporating analyte).
Project description:The effects of aqueous solution supercharging on the solution- and gas-phase structures of two protein complexes were investigated using traveling-wave ion mobility-mass spectrometry (TWIMS-MS). Low initial concentrations of m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) in the electrospray ionization (ESI) solution can effectively increase the charge of concanavalin A dimers and tetramers, but at higher m-NBA concentrations, the increases in charge are accompanied by solution-phase dissociation of the dimers and up to a ~22% increase in the collision cross section (CCS) of the tetramers. With just 0.8% m-NBA added to the ESI solution of a ~630 kDa anthrax toxin octamer complex, the average charge is increased by only ~4% compared with the "native" complex, but it is sufficiently destabilized so that extensive gas-phase fragmentation occurs in the relatively high pressure regions of the TWIMS device. Anthrax toxin complexes exist in either a prechannel or a transmembrane channel state. With m-NBA, the prechannel state of the complex has the same CCS/charge ratio in the gas phase as the transmembrane channel state of the same complex formed without m-NBA, yet undergoes extensive dissociation, indicating that destabilization from supercharging occurs in the ESI droplet prior to ion formation and is not a result of Coulombic destabilization in the gas phase as a result of higher charging. These results demonstrate that the supercharging of large protein complexes is the result of conformational changes induced by the reagents in the ESI droplets, where enrichment of the supercharging reagent during droplet evaporation occurs.
Project description:The effectiveness of two new supercharging reagents for producing highly charged ions by electrospray ionization (ESI) from aqueous solutions in which proteins have native structures and reactivities were investigated. In aqueous solution, 2-thiophenone and 4-hydroxymethyl-1,3-dioxolan-2-one (HD) at a concentration of 2% by volume can increase the average charge of cytochrome c and myoglobin by up to 163%, resulting in even higher charge states than those that are produced from water/methanol/acid solutions in which these proteins are denatured. The greatest extent of supercharging occurs in pure water, but these supercharging reagents are also highly effective in aqueous solutions containing 200 mM ammonium acetate buffer commonly used in native mass spectrometry (MS). These reagents are less effective supercharging reagents than m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) and propylene carbonate (PC) when ions are formed from water/methanol/acid. The extent to which loss of the heme group from myoglobin occurs is related to the extent of supercharging. Results from guanidine melts of cytochrome c monitored with tryptophan fluorescence show that the supercharging reagents PC, sulfolane and HD are effective chemical denaturants in solution. These results provide additional evidence for the role of protein structural changes in the electrospray droplet as the primary mechanism for supercharging with these reagents in native MS. These results also demonstrate that for at least some proteins, the formation of highly charged ions from native MS is no longer a significant barrier for obtaining structural information using conventional tandem MS methods.
Project description:Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) is commonly used as mobile phase additive to improve retention and peak shape characteristics in hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC) of intact proteins. However, when using electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) detection, TFA may cause ionization suppression and adduct formation, leading to reduced analyte sensitivity. To address this, we describe a membrane-based microfluidic chip with multiple parallel channels for the selective post-column removal of TFA anions from HILIC. An anion-exchange membrane was used to physically separate the column effluent from a stripper flow solution comprising acetonitrile, formic acid, and propionic acid. The exchange of ions allowed the post-column removal of TFA used during HILIC separation of model proteins. The multichannel design of the device allows the use of flow rates of 0.2 mL/min without the need for a flow splitter, using mobile phases containing 0.1% TFA (13 mM). Separation selectivity and efficiency were maintained (with minor band broadening effects) while increasing the signal intensity and peak areas by improving ionization and reducing TFA adduct formation.
Project description:A microfluidic device capable of two-dimensional reversed-phase liquid chromatography-capillary electrophoresis with integrated electrospray ionization (LC-CE-ESI) for mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomic applications is described. Traditional instrumentation was used for the LC sample injection and delivery of the LC mobile phase. The glass microfabricated device incorporated a sample-trapping region and an LC channel packed with reversed-phase particles. Rapid electrokinetic injections of the LC effluent into the CE dimension were performed at a cross-channel intersection. The CE separation channel terminated at a corner of the square device, which functioned as an integrated electrospray tip. In addition to LC-CE-ESI, this device was used for LC-ESI without any instrumental modifications. To evaluate the system, LC-MS and LC-CE-MS analyses of protein digests were performed and compared.
Project description:The formation of high charge-state protein ions with nanoelectrospray ionization (nESI) from purely aqueous ammonium bicarbonate solutions at neutral pH, where the proteins have native or native-like conformations prior to ESI droplet formation, is demonstrated. This "electrothermal" supercharging method depends on the temperature of the instrument entrance capillary, the nESI spray potential, and the solution ionic strength and buffer, although other factors almost certainly contribute. Mass spectra obtained with electrothermal supercharging appear similar to those obtained from denaturing solutions where charging beyond the total number of basic sites can be achieved. For example, a 17+ ion of bovine ubiquitin was formed by nESI of a 100 mM ammonium bicarbonate, pH 7.0, solution, which is three more charges than the total number of basic amino acids plus the N-terminus. Heating of the ESI droplets in the vacuum/atmosphere interface and the concomitant denaturation of the protein in the ESI droplets prior to ion formation appears to be the primary origin of the very high charge-state ions formed from these purely aqueous, buffered solutions. nESI mass spectra resembling those obtained under traditional native or denaturing conditions can be reversibly obtained simply by toggling the spray voltage between low and high values.
Project description:Electrokinetic supercharging (EKS) is known as one of the most effective online electrophoretic preconcentration techniques, though pairing with it with mass spectrometry has presented challenges. Here, EKS is successfully paired with ESI-MS/MS to provide a sensitive and robust method for analysis of biogenic amines in biological samples. Injection parameters including electric field strength and the buffer compositions used for the separation and focusing were investigated to achieve suitable resolution, high sensitivity, and compatibility with ESI-MS. Using EKS, the sensitivity of the method was improved 5000-fold compared to a conventional hydrodynamic injection with CZE. The separation allowed for baseline resolution of several neurotransmitters within 16 min with LODs down to 10 pM. This method was applied to targeted analysis of seven biogenic amines from rat brain stem and whole Drosophila tissue. This is the first method to use EKS with CE-ESI-MS/MS to analyze biological samples.
Project description:Low molecular heparins (LMWHs) are structurally complex, heterogeneous, polydisperse, and highly negatively charged mixtures of polysaccharides. The direct characterization of LMWH is a major challenge for currently available analytical technologies. Electrospray ionization (ESI) liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) is a powerful tool for the characterization complex biological samples in the fields of proteomics, metabolomics, and glycomics. LC-MS has been applied to the analysis of heparin oligosaccharides, separated by size exclusion, reversed phase ion-pairing chromatography, and chip-based amide hydrophilic interaction chromatography (HILIC). However, there have been limited applications of ESI-LC-MS for the direct characterization of intact LMWHs (top-down analysis) due to their structural complexity, low ionization efficiency, and sulfate loss. Here we present a simple and reliable HILIC-Fourier transform (FT)-ESI-MS platform to characterize and compare two currently marketed LMWH products using the top-down approach requiring no special sample preparation steps. This HILIC system relies on cross-linked diol rather than amide chemistry, affording highly resolved chromatographic separations using a relatively high percentage of acetonitrile in the mobile phase, resulting in stable and high efficiency ionization. Bioinformatics software (GlycReSoft 1.0) was used to automatically assign structures within 5-ppm mass accuracy.
Project description:Electrothermal supercharging (ETS) with electrospray ionization produces highly charged protein ions from buffered aqueous solutions in which proteins have native folded structures. ETS increases the charge of ribonuclease A by 34%, whereas only a 6% increase in charge occurs for a reduced-alkylated form of this protein, which is unfolded and its structure is ~66% random coil in this solution. These results indicate that protein denaturation that occurs in the ESI droplets is the primary mechanism for ETS. ETS does not affect the extent of solution-phase hydrogen-deuterium exchange (HDX) that occurs for four proteins that have significantly different structures in solution, consistent with a droplet lifetime that is considerably shorter than observable rates of HDX. Rate constants for HDX of ubiquitin are obtained with a spatial resolution of ~1.3 residues with ETS and electron transfer dissociation of the 10+ charge-state using a single capillary containing a few ?L of protein solution in which HDX continuously occurs. HDX protection at individual residues with ETS HDX is similar to that with reagent supercharging HDX and with solution-phase NMR, indicating that the high spray potentials required to induce ETS do not lead to HD scrambling. Graphical Abstract ?.