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J Am Chem Soc. 2003 Feb 26;125(8):2319-27.

Mechanism of charging and supercharging molecules in electrospray ionization.

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  • 1Contribution from the Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-1460, USA.


The origin of the extent of charging and the mechanism by which multiply charged ions are formed in electrospray ionization have been hotly debated for over a decade. Many factors can affect the number of charges on an analyte ion. Here, we investigate the extent of charging of poly(propyleneimine) dendrimers (generations 3.0 and 5.0), cytochrome c, poly(ethylene glycol)s, and 1,n-diaminoalkanes formed from solutions of different composition. We demonstrate that in the absence of other factors, the surface tension of the electrospray droplet late in the desolvation process is a significant factor in determining the overall analyte charge. For poly(ethylene glycol)s, 1,n-diaminoalkanes, and poly(propyleneimine) dendrimers electrosprayed from single-component solutions, there is a clear relationship between the analyte charge and the solvent surface tension. Addition of m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) into electrospray solutions increases the charging when the original solution has a lower surface tension than m-NBA, but the degree of charging decreases when this compound is added to water, which has a higher surface tension. Similarly, the charging of cytochrome c ions formed from acidified denaturing solutions generally increases with increasing surface tension of the least volatile solvent. For the dendrimers investigated, there is a strong correlation between the average charge state of the dendrimer and the Rayleigh limiting charge calculated for a droplet of the same size as the analyte molecule and with the surface tension of the electrospray solvent. A bimodal charge distribution is observed for larger dendrimers formed from water/m-NBA solutions, suggesting the presence of more than one conformation in solution. A similar correlation is found between the extent of charging for 1,n-diaminoalkanes and the calculated Rayleigh limiting charge. These results provide strong evidence that multiply charged organic ions are formed by the charged residue mechanism. A significantly smaller extent of charging for both dendrimers and 1,n-diaminoalkanes would be expected if the ion evaporation mechanism played a significant role.

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