The characterization of glycosylation in proteins by mass spectrometry (MS) is often impeded by strong suppression of ionization of glycopeptides in the presence of non-glycosylated peptides. Glycopeptides with a large carbohydrate part and a short peptide backbone are particularly affected by this problem. To meet the goal of generating mass spectra exhibiting glycopeptide coverages as complete as possible, derivatization of glycopeptides offers a practical way to increase their ionization yield. This paper investigated derivatization with 6-aminoquinolyl-N-hydroxysuccinimidyl carbamate (AQC) which is a rapid labeling technique commonly used for fluorescence detection in high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and capillary electrophoresis (CE). As test samples we used peptides and glycopeptides obtained by enzymatic digestion of three different glycoproteins, i.e., human antithrombin, chicken ovalbumin, and bovine alpha1-acid-glycoprotein. It was found that AQC derivatization resulted in strongly increased signal intensities when analyzing small peptides and glycopeptides by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI)-MS. For these compounds the limit of detection could be reduced to low fmol amounts. Without derivatization only glycopeptides containing large peptide backbones were detected by MALDI-MS. This effect was even significant when glycopeptides were pre-separated and enriched by means of lectin affinity chromatography before MALDI-MS analysis and when using electrospray ionization (ESI). This labeling method, applied in combination with MS detection for the first time, was found to be well suited for the enhancement of detection sensitivity for small glycopeptides in MALDI-MS analysis and thus for reducing the need for pre-separation steps.
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.