Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry

, Volume 21, Issue 10, pp 1762–1774

Effects of supercharging reagents on noncovalent complex structure in electrospray ionization from aqueous solutions


  • Harry J. Sterling
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley
  • Michael P. Daly
    • Waters Corporation
  • Geoffrey K. Feld
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley
  • Katie L. Thoren
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley
  • Alexander F. Kintzer
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley
  • Bryan A. Krantz
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley
    • Department of ChemistryUniversity of California-Berkeley

DOI: 10.1016/j.jasms.2010.06.012

Cite this article as:
Sterling, H.J., Daly, M.P., Feld, G.K. et al. J Am Soc Mass Spectrom (2010) 21: 1762. doi:10.1016/j.jasms.2010.06.012


The effects of two supercharging reagents, m-nitrobenzyl alcohol (m-NBA) and sulfolane, on the charge-state distributions and conformations of myoglobin ions formed by electrospray ionization were investigated. Addition of 0.4% m-NBA to aqueous ammonium acetate solutions of myoglobin results in an increase in the maximum charge state from 9+ to 19+, and an increase in the average charge state from 7.9+ to 11.7+, compared with solutions without m-NBA. The extent of supercharging with sulfolane on a per mole basis is lower than that with m-NBA, but comparable charging was obtained at higher concentration. Arrival time distributions obtained from traveling wave ion mobility spectrometry show that the higher charge state ions that are formed with these supercharging reagents are significantly more unfolded than lower charge state ions. Results from circular dichroism spectroscopy show that sulfolane can act as chemical denaturant, destabilizing myoglobin by ∼1.5 kcal/mol/M at 25 °C. Because these supercharging reagents have low vapor pressures, aqueous droplets are preferentially enriched in these reagents as evaporation occurs. Less evaporative cooling will occur after the droplets are substantially enriched in the low volatility supercharging reagent, and the droplet temperature should be higher compared with when these reagents are not present. Protein unfolding induced by chemical and/or thermal denaturation in the electrospray droplet appears to be the primary origin of the enhanced charging observed for noncovalent protein complexes formed from aqueous solutions that contain these supercharging reagents, although other factors almost certainly influence the extent of charging as well.

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© American Society for Mass Spectrometry 2010