, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 1617-1625

Modifying the charge state distribution of proteins in electrospray ionization mass spectrometry by chemical derivatization


Electrospray ionization (ESI) of denatured proteins produces a broad distribution of multiply-charged ions leading to multiple peaks in the mass spectrum. We investigated changes in the positive-mode ESI charge state distribution produced by several chemical modifications of denatured proteins. Capping carboxylic acid groups with neutral functional groups yields little change in charge state distribution compared with unmodified proteins. The results indicate that carboxyl groups do not play a significant role in the positive charging of denatured proteins in ESI. The modification of proteins with additional basic sites or fixed positive charges generates substantially higher charge states, providing evidence that the number of ionizable sites, rather than molecular size and shape, determines ESI charging for denatured proteins. Fixed charge modification also significantly reduces the number of protons acquired by a protein, in that the charge state envelope is not increased by the full number of fixed charges appended. This result demonstrates that Coulombic repulsion between positive charges plays a significant role in determining charge state distribution by affecting the gas-phase basicity of ionizable sites. Addition of fixed-charge moieties to a protein is a useful approach for shifting protein charge state distributions to higher charge states, and with further work, it may help limit the distribution of protein ions to fewer charge states.

Published online May 3, 2009