Cryogenic Ion Mobility-Mass Spectrometry: Tracking Ion Structure from Solution to the Gas Phase. Academic Article uri icon


  • Electrospray ionization (ESI) combined with ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IM-MS) is adding new dimensions, that is, structure and dynamics, to the field of biological mass spectrometry. There is increasing evidence that gas-phase ions produced by ESI can closely resemble their solution-phase structures, but correlating these structures can be complicated owing to the number of competing effects contributing to structural preferences, including both inter- and intramolecular interactions. Ions encounter unique hydration environments during the transition from solution to the gas phase that will likely affect their structure(s), but many of these structural changes will go undetected because ESI-IM-MS analysis is typically performed on solvent-free ions. Cryogenic ion mobility-mass spectrometry (cryo-IM-MS) takes advantage of the freeze-drying capabilities of ESI and a cryogenically cooled IM drift cell (80 K) to preserve extensively solvated ions of the type [M + xH](x+)(H2O)n, where n can vary from zero to several hundred. This affords an experimental approach for tracking the structural evolution of hydrated biomolecules en route to forming solvent-free gas-phase ions. The studies highlighted in this Account illustrate the varying extent to which dehydration can alter ion structure and the overall impact of cryo-IM-MS on structural studies of hydrated biomolecules. Studies of small ions, including protonated water clusters and alkyl diammonium cations, reveal structural transitions associated with the development of the H-bond network of water molecules surrounding the charge carrier(s). For peptide ions, results show that water networks are highly dependent on the charge-carrying species within the cluster. Specifically, hydrated peptide ions containing lysine display specific hydration behavior around the ammonium ion, that is, magic number clusters with enhanced stability, whereas peptides containing arginine do not display specific hydration around the guanidinium ion. Studies on the neuropeptide substance P illustrate the ability of cryo-IM-MS to elucidate information about heterogeneous ion populations. Results show that a kinetically trapped conformer is stabilized by a combination of hydration and specific intramolecular interactions, but upon dehydration, this conformer rearranges to form a thermodynamically favored gas-phase ion conformation. Finally, recent studies on hydration of the protein ubiquitin reveal water-mediated dimerization, thereby illustrating the extension of this approach to studies of large biomolecules. Collectively, these studies illustrate a new dimension to studies of biomolecules, resulting from the ability to monitor snapshots of the structural evolution of ions during the transition from solution to gas phase and provide unparalleled insights into the intricate interplay between competing effects that dictate conformational preferences.

published proceedings

  • Acc Chem Res

author list (cited authors)

  • Servage, K. A., Silveira, J. A., Fort, K. L., & Russell, D. H.

citation count

  • 28

complete list of authors

  • Servage, Kelly A||Silveira, Joshua A||Fort, Kyle L||Russell, David H

publication date

  • July 2016