The relative influence of phosphorylation and methylation on responsiveness of peptides to MALDI and ESI mass spectrometry

J Mass Spectrom. 2009 May;44(5):821-31. doi: 10.1002/jms.1581.


Qualitative and quantitative analysis of post-translational protein modifications by mass spectrometry is often hampered by changes in the ionization/detection efficiencies caused by amino acid modifications. This paper reports a comprehensive study of the influence of phosphorylation and methylation on the responsiveness of peptides to matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) and electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry. Using well-characterized synthetic peptide mixtures consisting of modified peptides and their unmodified analogs, relative ionization/detection efficiencies of phosphorylated, monomethylated, and dimethylated peptides were determined. Our results clearly confirm that the ion yields are generally lower and the signal intensities are reduced with phosphopeptides than with their nonphosphorylated analogs and that this has to be taken into account in MALDI and ESI mass spectrometry. However, the average reduction of ion yield caused by phosphorylation is more pronounced with MALDI than with ESI. The unpredictable impact of phosphorylation does not depend on the hydrophobicity and net charge of the peptide, indicating that reliable quantification of phosphorylation by mass spectrometry requires the use of internal standards. In contrast to phosphorylation, mono- and dimethylated peptides frequently exhibit increased signal intensities in MALDI mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS). Despite minor matrix-dependent variability, MALDI methods are well suited for the sensitive detection of dimethylated arginine and lysine peptides. Mono- and dimethylation of the arginine guanidino group did not significantly influence the ionization efficiency of peptides in ESI-MS.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Calibration
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Methylation
  • Molecular Weight
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Phosphopeptides / chemistry
  • Phosphorylation
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods*


  • Amino Acids
  • Peptides
  • Phosphopeptides