Nine unmodified endotoxin preparations constituted of Re-, Rd-, and Rc-type lipopolysaccharides (2 to 5 glycoses), representing four species of enterobacteria were analyzed by 252Cf plasma desorption mass spectrometry. The constituent lipopolysaccharides were characterized by the ion pair: (M-H)- and its corresponding lipid fragment ion. The lipid fragment ion is produced by cleavage of the glycosidic bond of the 3-deoxy-D-manno-oct-2-ulosonic acid unit that substitutes O-6' of the glucosamin beta 1'-6glucosamine ("lipid A backbone") disaccharide of the lipid A moiety. These lipid fragment ions were identical to the (M-H)- ions seen in the spectra of homologous isolated lipid A preparations that were obtained by hydrolysis (pH 4.5, 100 degrees C) promoted by sodium dodecyl sulfate. Since the molecular components present in the endotoxin preparations analyzed are known, the ion pair (M-H)(-)-lipid fragment ion defines the molecular compositions of each individual lipopolysaccharide. Heterogeneity of the R-type endotoxin preparations analyzed was due almost exclusively to differing lipid A moieties. In three Salmonella minnesota 595 Re endotoxin preparations 10 different lipopolysaccharides were identified, only two of which were common to all three preparations. Of the nine lipopolysaccharides identified in two S. minnesota R7 endotoxin preparations, only two were present in both.