Fragmentation pathways of protonated peptides

Mass Spectrom Rev. Jul-Aug 2005;24(4):508-48. doi: 10.1002/mas.20024.


The fragmentation pathways of protonated peptides are reviewed in the present paper paying special attention to classification of the known fragmentation channels into a simple hierarchy defined according to the chemistry involved. It is shown that the 'mobile proton' model of peptide fragmentation can be used to understand the MS/MS spectra of protonated peptides only in a qualitative manner rationalizing differences observed for low-energy collision induced dissociation of peptide ions having or lacking a mobile proton. To overcome this limitation, a deeper understanding of the dissociation chemistry of protonated peptides is needed. To this end use of the 'pathways in competition' (PIC) model that involves a detailed energetic and kinetic characterization of the major peptide fragmentation pathways (PFPs) is proposed. The known PFPs are described in detail including all the pre-dissociation, dissociation, and post-dissociation events. It is our hope that studies to further extend PIC will lead to semi-quantative understanding of the MS/MS spectra of protonated peptides which could be used to develop refined bioinformatics algorithms for MS/MS based proteomics. Experimental and computational data on the fragmentation of protonated peptides are reevaluated from the point of view of the PIC model considering the mechanism, energetics, and kinetics of the major PFPs. Evidence proving semi-quantitative predictability of some of the ion intensity relationships (IIRs) of the MS/MS spectra of protonated peptides is presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Peptides / analysis*
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Protons*
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein / methods*


  • Peptides
  • Protons