High-mass resolution multi-stage mass spectrometry (MSn) fragmentation was tested for differentiation and identification of metabolites, using a series of 121 polyphenolic molecules. The MSn fragmentation approach is based on the systematic breakdown of compounds, forming a so-called spectral tree. A chip-based nanoelectrospray ionization source was used combined with an ion-trap, providing reproducible fragmentation, and accurate mass read-out in an Orbitrap Fourier transform (FT) MS enabling rapid assignment of elemental formulas to the molecular ions and all fragment ions derived thereof. The used protocol resulted in reproducible MSn fragmentation trees up to MS5. Obtained results were stable over a 5 month time period, a concentration change of 100-fold, and small changes in normalized collision energy, which is key to metabolite annotation and helpful in structure and substructure elucidation. Differences in the hydroxylation and methoxylation patterns of polyphenolic core structures were found to be reflected by the differential fragmentation of the entire molecule, while variation in a glycosylation site displayed reproducible differences in the relative intensities of fragments originating from the same aglycone fragment ion. Accurate MSn-based spectral tree data are therefore a powerful tool to distinguish metabolites with similar elemental formula, thereby assisting compound identification in complex biological samples such as crude plant extracts.
- performance liquid-chromatography
- negative electrospray-ionization
- collision-induced dissociation
- flavonoid glycosides
- plant metabolomics