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Anal Chem. 2012 Jul 3;84(13):5794-800. doi: 10.1021/ac3011389. Epub 2012 Jun 13.

Label free screening of enzyme inhibitors at femtomole scale using segmented flow electrospray ionization mass spectrometry.

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University of Michigan, Department of Chemistry, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, United States.


Droplet-based microfluidics is an attractive platform for screening and optimizing chemical reactions. Using this approach, it is possible to reliably manipulate nanoliter volume samples and perform operations such as reagent addition with high precision, automation, and throughput. Most studies using droplet microfluidics have relied on optical techniques to detect the reaction; however, this requires engineering color or fluorescence change into the reaction being studied. In this work, we couple electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) to nanoliter scale segmented flow reactions to enable direct (label-free) analysis of reaction products. The system is applied to a screen of inhibitors for cathepsin B. In this approach, solutions of test compounds (including three known inhibitors) are arranged as an array of nanoliter droplets in a tube segmented by perfluorodecalin. The samples are pumped through a series of tees to add enzyme, substrate (peptides), and quenchant. The resulting reaction mixtures are then infused into a metal-coated, fused silica ESI emitter for MS analysis. The system has potential for high-throughput as reagent addition steps are performed at 0.7 s per sample and ESI-MS at up to 1.2 s per sample. Carryover is inconsequential in the ESI emitter and between 2 and 9% per reagent addition depending on the tee utilized. The assay was reliable with a Z-factor of ~0.8. The method required 0.8 pmol of test compound, 1.6 pmol of substrate, and 5 fmol of enzyme per reaction. Segmented flow ESI-MS allows direct, label free screening of reactions at good throughput and ultralow sample consumption.

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