, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 1498-1511

Tandem Mass Spectrometry of Heparan Sulfate Negative Ions: Sulfate Loss Patterns and Chemical Modification Methods for Improvement of Product Ion Profiles


Heparan sulfate (HS) is a polysaccharide modified with sulfation, acetylation, and epimerization that enable its binding with protein ligands and regulation of important biological processes. Tandem mass spectrometry has been employed to sequence linear biomolecules e.g., proteins and peptides. However, its application in structural characterization of HS is limited due to the neutral loss of sulfate (SO3) during collisional induced dissociation (CID). In this report, we studied the dissociation patterns of HS disaccharides and demonstrate that the N-sulfate (N–S) bond is especially facile during CID. We identified factors that influence the propensities of such losses from precursor ions and proposed a Free Proton Index (FPI) to help select ions that are able to produce meaningful backbone dissociations. We then investigated the thermodynamics and kinetics of SO3 loss from sulfates that are protonated, deprotonated, and metal-adducted using density functional theory computations. The calculations showed that sulfate loss from a protonated site was much more facile than that from a deprotonated or metal-adducted site. Further, the loss of SO3 from N-sulfate was energetically favored by 3–8 kcal/mol in transition states relative to O-sulfates, making it more prone to this process by a substantial factor. In order to reduce the FPI, representing the number of labile sulfates in HS native chains and oligosaccharides, we developed a series of chemical modifications to selectively replace the N-sulfates of the glucosamine with deuterated acetyl group. These modifications effectively reduced the sulfate density on the HS oligosaccharides and generated considerably more backbone dissociation using on-line LC/tandem MS.