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J Phys Chem A. 2005 Jan 13;109(1):250-8.

Coulomb-assisted dissociative electron attachment: application to a model peptide.

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Chemistry Department and Henry Eyring Center for Theoretical Chemistry, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.


The fragmentation of positively charged gas-phase samples of peptides is used to infer the primary structure of such molecules. In electron capture dissociation (ECD) experiments, very low-energy electrons attach to the sample and rupture bonds to effect the fragmentation. It turns out that ECD fragmentation tends to produce cleavage of very specific types of bonds. In earlier works by this group, it has been suggested that the presence of positive charges produces stabilizing Coulomb potentials that allow low-energy electrons to exothermically attach to sigma orbitals of certain bonds and thus to cleave those bonds. In the present effort, the stabilizing effects of Coulomb potentials due to proximal positive charges are examined for a small model peptide molecule that contains a wide range of bond types. Direct attachment of an electron to the sigma orbitals of eight different bonds as well as indirect sigma bond cleavage, in which an electron first binds to a carbonyl C=O pi orbital, are examined using ab initio methods. It is found that direct attachment to and subsequent cleavage of any of the eight sigma bonds is not likely except for highly positively charged samples. It is also found that attachment to a C=O pi orbital followed by cleavage of the nitrogen-to-alpha-carbon bond is the most likely outcome. Interestingly, this bond cleavage is the one that is seen most commonly in ECD experiments. So, the results presented here seem to offer good insight into one aspect of the ECD process, and they provide a means by which one can estimate (on the basis of a simple Coulomb energy formula) which bonds may be susceptible to cleavage by low-energy electron attachment.

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