Recent developments in analytical technologies have driven significant advances in lipid science. The sensitivity and selectivity of modern mass spectrometers can now provide for the detection and even quantification of many hundreds of lipids in a single analysis. In parallel, increasing evidence from structural biology suggests that a detailed knowledge of lipid molecular structure including carbon-carbon double bond position, stereochemistry and acyl chain regiochemistry is required to fully appreciate the biochemical role(s) of individual lipids. Here we review the capabilities and limitations of tandem mass spectrometry to provide this level of structural specificity in the analysis of lipids present in complex biological extracts. In particular, we focus on the capabilities of a novel technology termed ozone-induced dissociation to identify the position(s) of double bonds in unsaturated lipids and discuss its possible role in efforts to develop workflows that provide for complete structure elucidation of lipids by mass spectrometry alone: so-called top-down lipidomics.
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