Enhancement of amino acid detection and quantification by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry

Wen Chu Yang, Hamid Mirzaei, Xiuping Liu, Fred E. Regnier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


A new strategy for amino acid analysis is reported involving derivatization with an N-hydroxysuccinimide ester of N-alkylnicotinic acid (C n-NA-NHS) followed by reversed-phase chromatography and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (RPC-MS). Detection sensitivity increased as the N-alkyl chain length of the nicotinic acid derivatizing agent was increased from 1 to 4. N-Acylation of amino acids with the Cn-NA-NHS reagents in water produced a stable product in roughly 1 min using a 4-fold molar excess of derivatizing agent in 0.1 M sodium borate buffer at pH values ranging from 8.5 to 10. Some O-acylation of tyrosine was also observed, but the product hydrolyzed within a few minutes at pH 10. The cystine product also degraded slowly over the course of a few days from reduction of the disulfide bond to form cysteine. The retention time of Cn-NA derivatized amino acids was lengthened in reversed-phase chromatography to the extent that polar amino acids were retained beyond the solvent peak, particularly in the cases of the C3-NA and C4-NA derivatives. Complete resolution of 18 amino acids was achieved in 28 min using the C4-NA-NHS reagent. Compared to N-acylation with benzoic acid, derivatization with C 4-NA-NHS increased MS detection sensitivity 6-80-fold. This was attributed to the surfactant properties of the Cn-NA-NHS reagents. The quaternary amine increased the charge on amino acid conjugates while the presence of an adjacent alkyl chain further increased ionization efficiency by apparently enhancing amino acid migration to the surface of electrospray droplets. Further modification of the Cn-NA-NHS reagents with deuterium was used to prepare coded sets of derivatizing agents. These coding agents were used to differentially code samples and after mixing carry out comparative concentration measurements between samples using extracted ion chromatograms to estimate relative peak areas of derivatized amino acids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4702-4708
Number of pages7
JournalAnalytical chemistry
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Enhancement of amino acid detection and quantification by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this