Elution-modified displacement chromatography (EMDC) was employed to achieve peptide separations with high efficiency. On-line ESI-MS and ESI-MS/MS measurements showed enrichment and detection of kemptide, a protein kinase A peptide substrate, at low femtomole levels when it was added as a trace marker component to a tryptic digest of bovine serum proteins or to a human growth hormone peptide digest at concentration ratios between 1:10(5) and 1:10(6). In another EMDC separation, five peptides were detected in a mixture containing 20 fmol of human growth hormone tryptic digest mixed with the bovine serum protein digest. We found that EMDC facilitated rapid detection and sequence analysis of trace peptides at levels of approximately 0.5 fmol/microL in complex peptide mixtures with a wide dynamic concentration range. Accordingly, the detection of kemptide by EMDC was found to be 3-4 orders of magnitude more sensitive than that attained in conventional linear elution chromatography separations performed with the same peptide loads. Kemptide was phosphorylated in vitro and was detected along with its neutral loss product in peptide mixtures at low femtomole levels. EMDC enabled both detection and amino acid sequence determination on trace levels of phosphorylated and other posttranslationally modified peptides, suggesting that the technique may be useful for proteomics applications where detection and analysis of trace level peptides are problematic.