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Anal Biochem. 1989 Jun;179(2):404-12.

Peptide and protein analysis by electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry and capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry.

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Chemical Sciences Department, Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Richland, Washington 99352.


The extension of mass spectrometry to high molecular weight biopolymers based upon electrospray ionization and the on-line combination with capillary electrophoresis is described. Electrospray ionization produces gas-phase intact multiply charged molecular ions of biomolecules from highly charged liquid droplets by a high electric field. For high molecular weight substances electrospray ionization results in a characteristic bell-shaped distribution of multiply charged ions, with each adjacent major peak in the spectrum differing by one charge. Multiply charged molecular ions of proteins with molecular weights greater than 130,000 have been observed with a quadrupole mass spectrometer of limited mass-to-charge range (m/z 1700). Molecular weights can be readily determined for large proteins with accuracies in the range of +/- 0.01 to 0.05%; at least an order of magnitude further improvement appears feasible with improved techniques and instrumentation. The electrospray ionization method is sensitive, presently requiring samples in the 100 fmol to 10 pmol range for proteins. Initial results combining rapid separations by capillary zone electrophoresis with on-line mass spectrometric detection via the electrospray ionization source are demonstrated for myoglobin and other proteins and polypeptides. The potential for extension of these methods to molecular weights on the order of 10(6) is discussed.

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