Letter

Identification of carbohydrate anomers using ion mobility–mass spectrometry

  • Nature volume 526, pages 241244 (08 October 2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nature15388
  • Download Citation
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Abstract

Carbohydrates are ubiquitous biological polymers that are important in a broad range of biological processes1,2,3. 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 oligonucleotides4. 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 isomers5. 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 stereoisomers6. 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.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Free University Berlin and the Max Planck Society for financial support. J.H. and K.P. thank G. von Helden, J.L.P. Benesch and W.B. Struwe for comments.

Author information

Author notes

    • J. Hofmann
    •  & H. S. Hahm

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, Faradayweg 4-6, 14195 Berlin, Germany

    • J. Hofmann
    •  & K. Pagel
  2. Institute for Chemistry and Biochemistry, Free University Berlin, Takustraße 3, 14195 Berlin, Germany

    • J. Hofmann
    •  & K. Pagel
  3. Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Department of Biomolecular Systems, Am Mühlenberg 1, 14476 Potsdam, Germany

    • H. S. Hahm
    •  & P. H. Seeberger
  4. Institute for Chemistry and Biochemistry, Free University Berlin, Arnimallee 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany

    • H. S. Hahm
    •  & P. H. Seeberger

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Contributions

P.H.S. and K.P. designed the research; J.H. and H.S.H. performed the research. All authors analysed data and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to P. H. Seeberger or K. Pagel.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-27, Supplementary Tables 1-4 and additional references.

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