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Sample Flow Rate Scan in Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry Reveals Alterations in Protein Charge State Distribution

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journal contribution
posted on 22.09.2020, 12:12 by Gurpur Rakesh D. Prabhu, Vinoth Kumar Ponnusamy, Henryk A. Witek, Pawel L. Urban
Sample flow rate is one of the parameters that influence the sensitivity of electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry. By varying the sample flow rate, initial droplets of different sizes can be generated. Protein molecules in small droplets may form gas-phase ions earlier than the ones in large droplets. Here, we have systematically studied the influence of sample flow rate on the ESI charge state distributions (CSDs) of model proteins. A dedicated programmable sample flow rate scanner was used to infuse protein samples at different flow rates into a mass spectrometer. The synergistic influence of sample flow rate and various electrolytes (ammonium acetate, ammonium bicarbonate, ammonium formate, and piperidine) was studied. Significant alterations to the CSDs with increasing flow rate were observed. For example, in the presence of ammonium acetate, at low flow rates, lower charge states of proteins showed high intensities, while at high flow rates, ions related to higher charge states of proteins dominated the spectra. On the other hand, in the presence of piperidine, a significant reduction in the ion currents of all charge states was observed during the flow rate scan. Our observations suggest that at low flow rates the protein molecules follow a charged residue model of ionization mechanism, and at high flow ratesdue to structural changes in protein molecules in large ESI dropletsthe charged residue and chain ejection models can possibly coexist. We propose the use of sample flow rate scan as a way to reveal the influence of flow rate on the CSDs of the studied proteins.