Recent works using ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IM-MS) have highlighted the power of this instrumental configuration to tackle one of the greatest challenges in glycomics and glycoproteomics: the existence of isobaric isomers. For a successful separation of species with identical mass but different structure via IM-MS, it is crucial to have sufficient IM resolution. In commercially available IM-MS instruments, however, this resolution is limited by the design of the instrument and usually cannot be increased at-will without extensive modifications. Here, we present a systematic approach to improve the resolving capability of IM-MS instruments using so-called energy-resolved ion mobility-mass spectrometry. The technique utilizes the fact that individual components in an isobaric mixture fragment at considerably different energies when activated in the gas phase via collision-induced dissociation (CID). As a result, certain components can be suppressed selectively at increased CID activation energy. Using a mixture of four isobaric carbohydrates, we show that each of the individual sugars can be resolved and unambiguously identified even when their drift times differ by as little as 3 %. However, the presented results also indicate that a certain difference in the gas-phase stability of the individual components is crucial for a successful separation via energy-resolved IM-MS.
This paper was awarded with the Ron Hites Award 2016 of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry.