Reversed-phase microcapillary chromatography (RP-microLC) combined with electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS) is one of two prevailing techniques in proteomic analysis, the other being matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI). Despite the arguably better dynamic range obtainable with ESI, MALDI is increasingly popular due to ease of use, ruggedness and the ability to decouple separation from ionization. By contrast, in order to take advantage of the sensitivity and dynamic range afforded by the concentration-dependent nature of ESI, it is directly coupled to separations that take place in small i.d. RP-microLC columns. This gain in sensitivity often comes at a loss of ruggedness due to clogging of the small i.d. RP-microLC columns, one result of which is limited sample throughput. Here we describe a combined micropre-column-microLC-ESI device that is sensitive, rugged and modular in design allowing facile construction and troubleshooting. Due to low signal-to-noise as little as 1 attomole of a peptide can be selected by data-dependent methods for collision-induced dissociation. Importantly, the resulting tandem mass spectrum is of high enough quality to identify the peptide sequence by a database search against a complex database using SEQUEST. Finally, the device is demonstrated to be rugged as judged by >60 consecutive reversed-phase microLC separations on complex peptide mixtures before chromatographic resolution is degraded.
Copyright 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.