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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21500. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021500. Epub 2011 Jun 30.

Rapid analysis of Listeria monocytogenes cell wall teichoic acid carbohydrates by ESI-MS/MS.

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Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


We report the application of electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry for compositional characterization of wall teichoic acids (WTA), a major component of gram-positive bacterial cell walls. Tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS) of purified and chemically hydrolyzed monomeric WTA components provided sufficient information to identify WTA monomers and their specific carbohydrate constituents. A lithium matrix was used for ionization of uncharged WTA monomers, and successfully applied to analyze the WTA molecules of four Listeria strains differing in carbohydrate substitution on a conserved polyribitol-phosphate backbone structure. Carbohydrate residues such as N-acetylglucosamine or rhamnose linked to the WTA could directly be identified by ESI-MS/MS, circumventing the need for quantitative analysis by gas chromatography. The presence of a terminal N-acetylglucosamine residue tethered to the ribitol was confirmed using fluorescently labeled wheat-germ agglutinin. In conclusion, the mass spectrometry method described here will greatly facilitate compositional analysis and characterization of teichoic acids and similar macromolecules from diverse bacterial species, and represents a significant advance in the identification of serovar-specific carbohydrates and sugar molecules on bacteria.

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