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J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2000 Oct;11(10):835-40.

Stable isotope incorporation triples the upper mass limit for determination of elemental composition by accurate mass measurement.

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Center for Interdisciplinary Magnetic Resonance, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University, Tallahassee 32310, USA.


By comparing electrospray ionization Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectra and collision-induced dissociation (CID) FT-ICR mass spectra of a phospholipid (851 Da) extracted from natural abundance and 99% 13C bacterial growth media, we are able to reduce its number of possible elemental compositions (based on +/-10 ppm externally calibrated mass accuracy and biologically relevant compositional constraints) from 394 to 1. The basic idea is simply that the mass of a molecule containing N carbon atoms increases by N Da when 12C is replaced by 13C. Once the number of carbons is known, the number of possible combinations of other atoms in the molecule is greatly reduced. We demonstrate the method for a stored-waveform inverse Fourier transform-isolated phospholipid from an extract of membrane lipids from Rhodococcus rhodochrous hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria grown on either natural abundance or 99% 13C-enriched mixtures of n-hexadecane and n-octadecane. We project that this method raises the upper mass limit for unique determination of elemental composition from accurate mass measurement by a factor of at least 3, thereby extending "chemical formula" determination to identification and sequencing of larger synthetic and bio-polymers: phospholipids, oligopeptides of more than three to four amino acids, DNA or RNA of more than two nucleotides, oligosaccharides of more than three sugars, etc. The method can also be extended to determination of the number of other atoms for which heavy isotopes are available (e.g., 15N, 34S, 18O, etc.).

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