The principles, development, and recent application of electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) to biological compounds are reviewed. ESI-MS methods now allow determination of accurate molecular weights for proteins extending to over 50,000, and in some cases well over 100,000. Similar capabilities are being developed for oligonucleotides. The instrumentation used for ESI-MS is briefly described and it is shown that, although ionization efficiency appears to be uniformly high, detector sensitivity may be directly correlated with molecular weight. The use of tandem mass spectrometry (e.g., MS/MS) for extending collision-induced dissociation (CID) methods to the structural studies of large molecules is described. For example, effective CID of various albumin species (molecular weight approximately 66,000) can be obtained, far larger than obtainable for singly charged molecular ions. The combination of capillary electrophoresis, in both free solution zone electrophoresis and isotachophoresis formats, as well as microcolumn liquid chromatography with ESI-MS, provides the capability for on-line separation and analysis of subpicomole quantities of proteins. These and other new developments related to ESI-MS are illustrated by a range of examples. Fundamental considerations suggest even more impressive developments may be anticipated related to detection sensitivity and methods for obtaining structural information.