Practical implications of some recent studies in electrospray ionization fundamentals

Mass Spectrom Rev. 2001 Nov-Dec;20(6):362-87. doi: 10.1002/mas.10008.


In accomplishing successful electrospray ionization analyses, it is imperative to have an understanding of the effects of variables such as analyte structure, instrumental parameters, and solution composition. Here, we review some fundamental studies of the ESI process that are relevant to these issues. We discuss how analyte chargeability and surface activity are related to ESI response, and how accessible parameters such as nonpolar surface area and reversed phase HPLC retention time can be used to predict relative ESI response. Also presented is a description of how derivitizing agents can be used to maximize or enable ESI response by improving the chargeability or hydrophobicity of ESI analytes. Limiting factors in the ESI calibration curve are discussed. At high concentrations, these factors include droplet surface area and excess charge concentration, whereas at low concentrations ion transmission becomes an issue, and chemical interference can also be limiting. Stable and reproducible non-pneumatic ESI operation depends on the ability to balance a number of parameters, including applied voltage and solution surface tension, flow rate, and conductivity. We discuss how changing these parameters can shift the mode of ESI operation from stable to unstable, and how current-voltage curves can be used to characterize the mode of ESI operation. Finally, the characteristics of the ideal ESI solvent, including surface tension and conductivity requirements, are discussed. Analysis in the positive ion mode can be accomplished with acidified methanol/water solutions, but negative ion mode analysis necessitates special constituents that suppress corona discharge and facilitate the production of stable negative ions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Solvents
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / instrumentation
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / trends*


  • Solvents