Carbohydrates are ubiquitous biological polymers that are important in a broad range of biological processes. However, owing to their branched structures and the presence of stereogenic centres at each glycosidic linkage between monomers, carbohydrates are harder to characterize than are peptides and oligonucleotides. Methods such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be used to characterize glycosidic linkages, but this technique requires milligram amounts of material and cannot detect small amounts of coexisting isomers. Mass spectrometry, on the other hand, can provide information on carbohydrate composition and connectivity for even small amounts of sample, but it cannot be used to distinguish between stereoisomers. Here, we demonstrate that ion mobility–mass spectrometry—a method that separates molecules according to their mass, charge, size, and shape—can unambiguously identify carbohydrate linkage-isomers and stereoisomers. We analysed six synthetic carbohydrate isomers that differ in composition, connectivity, or configuration. Our data show that coexisting carbohydrate isomers can be identified, and relative concentrations of the minor isomer as low as 0.1 per cent can be detected. In addition, the analysis is rapid, and requires no derivatization and only small amounts of sample. These results indicate that ion mobility–mass spectrometry is an effective tool for the analysis of complex carbohydrates. This method could have an impact on the field of carbohydrate synthesis similar to that of the advent of high-performance liquid chromatography on the field of peptide assembly in the late 1970s.
The paper was highlighted in the following articles:
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: http://www.faz.net/-gwz-88nop
GIT Laborfachzeitschrift: http://www.git-labor.de/forschung/chemie-physik/identifizierung-von-isomeren-kohlenhydraten