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J Mass Spectrom. 2011 Dec;46(12):1262-7. doi: 10.1002/jms.2013.

Do electrospray mass spectra of surfactants mirror their aggregation state in solution?

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Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie Molecolari e Biomolecolari (STEMBIO), Università degli Studi di Palermo, Viale delle Scienze, Ed. 16, I-90128, Palermo, Italy.


One important feature in the gas phase chemistry of surfactants is to ascertain whether their aggregates produced by electrospray ionization reflect those formed in the starting solution. With this aim, we have performed ESI-MS, ESI-MS/MS and ER-MS spectra of bis(2-ethylhexyl)sulfosuccinate (AOTNa) solutions in different solvents, i.e. water, water/methanol, methanol and n-hexane. The results clearly indicate that, notwithstanding the strongly different aggregation state in solution (direct micelles in water and in water/methanol, molecular dispersion in methanol and reverse micelles in n-hexane) and marked effects of the solvent polarity on the total ionic current, the surfactant aggregates in gas phase show identical structural features. Analogous conclusions can be drawn analyzing the infrared multiple photon dissociation (IRMPD) spectra of AOTNa solutions in water/methanol and n-hexane. Moreover, according to the idea that gas phase can be considered an apolar environment par excellence, data consistently suggest a reverse micelle-like aggregation. Some peculiarities of the mechanisms leading to aggregate formation through electrospray ionization of surfactant solutions in solvent media with different polarity have been also discussed.

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