Positive chemical ionization triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry and ab initio computational studies of the multi-pathway fragmentation of phthalates

J Mass Spectrom. 2010 Jun;45(6):678-85. doi: 10.1002/jms.1761.


We report the first positive chemical ionization (PCI) fragmentation mechanisms of phthalates using triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry and ab initio computational studies using density functional theories (DFT). Methane PCI spectra showed abundant [M + H](+), together with [M + C(2)H(5)](+) and [M + C(3)H(5)](+). Fragmentation of [M + H](+), [M + C(2)H(5)](+) and [M + C(3)H(5)](+) involved characteristic ions at m/z 149, 177 and 189, assigned as protonated phthalic anhydride and an adduct of phthalic anhydride with C(2)H(5)(+) and C(3)H(5)(+), respectively. Fragmentation of these ions provided more structural information from the PCI spectra. A multi-pathway fragmentation was proposed for these ions leading to the protonated phthalic anhydride. DFT methods were used to calculate relative free energies and to determine structures of intermediate ions for these pathways. The first step of the fragmentation of [M + C(2)H(5)](+) and [M + C(3)H(5)](+) is the elimination of [R-H] from an ester group. The second ester group undergoes either a McLafferty rearrangement route or a neutral loss elimination of ROH. DFT calculations (B3LYP, B3PW91 and BPW91) using 6-311G(d,p) basis sets showed that McLafferty rearrangement of dibutyl, di(-n-octyl) and di(2-ethyl-n-hexyl) phthalates is an energetically more favorable pathway than loss of an alcohol moiety. Prominent ions in these pathways were confirmed with deuterium labeled phthalates.