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J Mass Spectrom. 2004 Oct;39(10):1091-112.

Ion activation methods for tandem mass spectrometry.

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  • 1National Research Council, Institute for Marine Biosciences, 1411 Oxford Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 3Z1.


This tutorial presents the most common ion activation techniques employed in tandem mass spectrometry. In-source fragmentation and metastable ion decompositions, as well as the general theory of unimolecular dissociations of ions, are initially discussed. This is followed by tandem mass spectrometry, which implies that the activation of ions is distinct from the ionization step, and that the precursor and product ions are both characterized independently by their mass/charge ratios. In collision-induced dissociation (CID), activation of the selected ions occurs by collision(s) with neutral gas molecules in a collision cell. This experiment can be done at high (keV) collision energies, using tandem sector and time-of-flight instruments, or at low (eV range) energies, in tandem quadrupole and ion trapping instruments. It can be performed using either single or multiple collisions with a selected gas and each of these factors influences the distribution of internal energy that the activated ion will possess. While CID remains the most common ion activation technique employed in analytical laboratories today, several new methods have become increasingly useful for specific applications. More recent techniques are examined and their differences, advantages and disadvantages are described in comparison with CID. Collisional activation upon impact of precursor ions on solid surfaces, surface-induced dissociation (SID), is gaining importance as an alternative to gas targets and has been implemented in several different types of mass spectrometers. Furthermore, unique fragmentation mechanisms of multiply-charged species can be studied by electron-capture dissociation (ECD). The ECD technique has been recognized as an efficient means to study non-covalent interactions and to gain sequence information in proteomics applications. Trapping instruments, such as quadrupole ion traps and Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance instruments, are particularly useful for the photoactivation of ions, specifically for fragmentation of precursor ions by infrared multiphoton dissociation (IRMPD). IRMPD is a non-selective activation method and usually yields rich fragmentation spectra. Lastly, blackbody infrared radiative dissociation is presented with a focus on determining activation energies and other important parameters for the characterization of fragmentation pathways. The individual methods are presented so as to facilitate the understanding of each mechanism of activation and their particular advantages and representative applications.

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