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J Chromatogr A. 2003 Jun 20;1002(1-2):79-92.

On-line high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric detection and quantification of N-acylhomoserine lactones, quorum sensing signal molecules, in the presence of biological matrices.

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Laboratoire de Biologie et Chimie Moléculaires, Université de Bretagne-Sud, B.P. 92116, F-56321 Lorient Cedex, France.


A protocol using reversed-phase liquid chromatography coupled with positive-ion electrospray ionization and ion trap mass spectrometry is described for the identification and quantification of N-acylhomoserine lactones (HSLs) in crude cell-free supernatants of bacterial cultures. The HSLs are produced by gram-negative bacteria and act as intercellular signals inducing density-dependent gene expression. Compared with the multi-step procedures previously reported, which included chemical extraction, purification and the use of Escherichia coli HSL biosensors, this on-line LC-MS-MS method is fast and detects 11 HSLs. Its speed and robustness allow the analysis of a large number of samples without loss of performance (no signal variation for a control sample after 90 chromatographic injections). The selectivity is based on the MS-MS fragment ions of the molecular [M+H]- ions and on their relative intensities. For quantification, the m/z 102 ion, specific for the lactone ring and detected with a good signal-to-noise ratio, allows low detection limits even in complex matrix samples (0.28 up to 9.3 pmol). Moreover, this method allows the quantification of 11 HSLs whatever their chemical structure, substituted or not. The protocol was applied to Vibrio vulnificus, a marine bacterium. Six HSLs were detected and quantified with relative standard deviations for repeatability of < 10%.

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