Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) is a simple, fast and inexpensive separation method. Unambiguous identification of the TLC spots is, however, often a problem. Here we show for the first time that oligosaccharides (derived from dextran, alginate, hyaluronan and chondroitin sulfate) can be characterized by matrix-assisted laser desorption and ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry (MS) directly on a TLC plate. The applied oligosaccharides were either commercially available or obtained from the polysaccharides by HCl-induced hydrolysis. Normal phase TLC was followed by MALDI-TOF MS subsequent to matrix deposition. It will be shown that high quality mass spectra can be obtained that enable unequivocal assignments. It will also be shown that the high content of formic acid in the solvent system does not confer major problems but is responsible for the partial formylation of the analyte and minor N-acetyl loss from hyaluronan and chondroitin sulfate.
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