Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 22095165
Link to DOI – 10.1007/s13361-011-0254-1
J Am Soc Mass Spectrom 2012 Feb; 23(2): 330-46
By screening a data set of 392 synthetic peptides MS/MS spectra, we found that a known C-terminal rearrangement was unexpectedly frequently occurring from monoprotonated molecular ions in both ESI and MALDI tandem mass spectrometry upon low and high energy collision activated dissociations with QqTOF and TOF/TOF mass analyzer configuration, respectively. Any residue localized at the C-terminal carboxylic acid end, even a basic one, was lost, provided that a basic amino acid such arginine and to a lesser extent histidine and lysine was present in the sequence leading to a fragment ion, usually depicted as (b(n-1) + H(2)O) ion, corresponding to a shortened non-scrambled peptide chain. Far from being an epiphenomenon, such a residue exclusion from the peptide chain C-terminal extremity gave a fragment ion that was the base peak of the MS/MS spectrum in certain cases. Within the frame of the mobile proton model, the ionizing proton being sequestered onto the basic amino acid side chain, it is known that the charge directed fragmentation mechanism involved the C-terminal carboxylic acid function forming an anhydride intermediate structure. The same mechanism was also demonstrated from cationized peptides. To confirm such assessment, we have prepared some of the peptides that displayed such C-terminal residue exclusion as a C-terminal backbone amide. As expected in this peptide amide series, the production of truncated chains was completely suppressed. Besides, multiply charged molecular ions of all peptides recorded in ESI mass spectrometry did not undergo such fragmentation validating that any mobile ionizing proton will prevent such a competitive C-terminal backbone rearrangement. Among all well-known nondirect sequence fragment ions issued from non specific loss of neutral molecules (mainly H(2)O and NH(3)) and multiple backbone amide ruptures (b-type internal ions), the described C-terminal residue exclusion is highly identifiable giving raise to a single fragment ion in the high mass range of the MS/MS spectra. The mass difference between this signal and the protonated molecular ion corresponds to the mass of the C-terminal residue. It allowed a straightforward identification of the amino acid positioned at this extremity. It must be emphasized that a neutral residue loss can be misattributed to the formation of a y(m-1) ion, i.e., to the loss of the N-terminal residue following the a(1)-y(m-1) fragmentation channel. Extreme caution must be adopted when reading the direct sequence ion on the positive ion MS/MS spectra of singly charged peptides not to mix up the attribution of the N- and C-terminal amino acids. Although such peculiar fragmentation behavior is of obvious interest for de novo peptide sequencing, it can also be exploited in proteomics, especially for studies involving digestion protocols carried out with proteolytic enzymes other than trypsin (Lys-N, Glu-C, and Asp-N) that produce arginine-containing peptides.