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J Chem Phys. 2008 Apr 28;128(16):164311. doi: 10.1063/1.2902980.

Vibrational and photoionization spectroscopy of biomolecules: aliphatic amino acid structures.

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Department of Chemistry, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1872, USA.


The aliphatic amino acids glycine, valine, leucine, and isoleucine are thermally placed into the gas phase and expanded into a vacuum system for access by time of flight mass spectroscopy and infrared (IR) spectroscopy in the energy range of 2500-4000 cm(-1) (CH, NH, OH, and stretching vibrations). The isolated neutral amino acids are ionized by a single photon of 10.5 eV energy (118 nm), which exceeds by less than 2 eV their reported ionization thresholds. As has been reported for many hydrogen bonded acid-base systems (e.g., water, ammonia, alcohol, acid clusters, and acid molecules), the amino acids undergo a structural rearrangement in the ion state (e.g., in simplest form, a proton transfer) that imparts sufficient excess vibrational energy to the ion to completely fragment it. No parent ions are observed. If the neutral ground state amino acids are exposed to IR radiation prior to ionization, an IR spectrum of the individual isomers for each amino acid can be determined by observation of the ion intensity of the different fragment mass channels. Both the IR spectrum and fragmentation patterns for individual isomers can be qualitatively identified and related to a particular isomer in each instance. Thus, each fragment ion detected presents an IR spectrum of its particular parent amino acid isomer. In some instances, the absorption of IR radiation by the neutral amino acid parent isomer increases a particular fragmentation mass channel intensity, while other fragmentation mass channel intensities decrease. This phenomenon can be rationalized by considering that with added energy in the molecule, the fragmentation channel populations can be modulated by the added vibrational energy in the rearranged ions. This observation also suggests that the IR absorption does not induce isomerization in the ground electronic state of these amino acids. These data are consistent with theoretical predictions for isolated amino acid secondary structures and can be related to previous IR spectra of amino acid conformers.

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