The coupling of nano high-performance liquid chromatography (nanoHPLC) with matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry (MS) via an automatic spotting roboter was developed and adapted for the first time for the analysis of complex mixtures of glycosphingolipids (GSLs). The 2,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid and 6-azo-2-thiothymine matrix systems were adjusted to concurrently meet the requirements for reproducible and homogeneous crystal formation with the liquid chromatography (LC) eluent under the variable LC solvent composition over the course gradient and high ionization efficiency of the GSL species, without the need for recrystallization. Precise adjustment of the automatic spotting parameters in terms of matrix flow rate, on-tip collection time of the matrix/LC eluent solution and the matrix spotting mode, i.e., continuous and discontinuous, was accomplished to collect individually nanoHPLC-separated species within distinct spots and consequently recover by MALDI MS screening all major and minor GSL species in the mixtures. The nanoHPLC/MALDI MS coupling protocol was developed and applied to a mixture of neutral GSLs purified from human erythrocytes and a monosialoganglioside mixture expressed by the murine MDAY-D2 cell line. Additionally, on-line nanoHPLC/MALDI doping with lithium cations of individually separated neutral GSLs was introduced to enhance data interpretation of the GSL MS pattern, while preserving the same level of information and ultimately to enhance structural assignment of components of interest. The method is demonstrated to be highly sensitive, reaching the low femtomole level of detection of individual GSL species and is highlighted as a versatile analytical tool for glycolipidomic studies.
Nano high-performance liquid chromatographyMatrix assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometryGlycosphingolipidsAutomatization