Applying ‘Sequential Windowed Acquisition of All Theoretical Fragment Ion Mass Spectra’ (SWATH) for systematic toxicological analysis with liquid chromatography-high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry
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- Arnhard, K., Gottschall, A., Pitterl, F. et al. Anal Bioanal Chem (2015) 407: 405. doi:10.1007/s00216-014-8262-1
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Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) has become an indispensable analytical technique in clinical and forensic toxicology for detection and identification of potentially toxic or harmful compounds. Particularly, non-target LC-MS/MS assays enable extensive and universal screening requested in systematic toxicological analysis. An integral part of the identification process is the generation of information-rich product ion spectra which can be searched against libraries of reference mass spectra. Usually, ‘data-dependent acquisition’ (DDA) strategies are applied for automated data acquisition. In this study, the ‘data-independent acquisition’ (DIA) method ‘Sequential Windowed Acquisition of All Theoretical Fragment Ion Mass Spectra’ (SWATH) was combined with LC-MS/MS on a quadrupole-quadrupole-time-of-flight (QqTOF) instrument for acquiring informative high-resolution tandem mass spectra. SWATH performs data-independent fragmentation of all precursor ions entering the mass spectrometer in 21m/z isolation windows. The whole m/z range of interest is covered by continuous stepping of the isolation window. This allows numerous repeat analyses of each window during the elution of a single chromatographic peak and results in a complete fragment ion map of the sample. Compounds and samples typically encountered in forensic casework were used to assess performance characteristics of LC-MS/MS with SWATH. Our experiments clearly revealed that SWATH is a sensitive and specific identification technique. SWATH is capable of identifying more compounds at lower concentration levels than DDA does. The dynamic range of SWATH was estimated to be three orders of magnitude. Furthermore, the >600,000 SWATH spectra matched led to only 408 incorrect calls (false positive rate = 0.06 %). Deconvolution of generated ion maps was found to be essential for unravelling the full identification power of LC-MS/MS with SWATH. With the available software, however, only semi-automated deconvolution was enabled, which rendered data interpretation a laborious and time-consuming process.