Compensation of gradient related effects when using capillary liquid chromatography and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for the absolute quantification of phosphorylated peptides


The application of reversed phase liquid chromatography (RP-LC) hyphenated to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) for the accurate quantification of bio-molecules via covalently bound hetero atoms such as phosphorus is restricted, due to the known effects of increasing amounts of organic solvents on the ionization behavior of certain elements. An approach for the compensation of variations in the elemental response, due to changes in the solvent composition during the RP gradient separation of phosphorylated peptides is described, which includes the application of a second, matched reversed gradient, that is mixed post-column with the RP column outflow before entering the LC–ICP-MS interface. The experimental design allows the application of gradient separations, while the element-specific detection is carried out under isocratic conditions with a constant organic solvent intake into the plasma. A constant elemental response is a general pre-requisite for the application of ICP-MS for the absolute quantification of peptides via their hetero atom content, especially when no corresponding high purity standards are available or natural mono-isotopic hetero element tags are utilized. As complementary technique LC–electrospray ionization linear ion trap mass spectrometry (ESI-QTRAP-MS) has been used for peptide identification and to elucidate their phosphorus stoichiometry. Highly reproducible separations have been obtained with retention time and peak area RSDs of 0.05% and 7.6% (n = 6), respectively. Detection limits for phosphorus of 6 μg L−1 (6 pg absolute), have been realized, which corresponds to approximately 200 fmol of an average molecular weight, singly phosphorylated peptide. In addition an automatic routine for flow injection analysis (FIA) at the end of each chromatographic separation has been developed, to calibrate each chromatographic separation, which allows absolute quantification of the separated species, whenever their tag stoichiometry is known. Phosphorylated peptides as well as tryptic protein digests have been used as model compounds for method development and to demonstrate the applicability of the proposed setup for phosphopeptide quantification on the basis of simple inorganic phosphorus standards.
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