Subzero Celsius separations in three-zone temperature controlled hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry

J Chromatogr A. 2017 Nov 10:1523:275-282. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2017.05.067. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


Hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (HDX MS) reports on the conformational landscape of proteins by monitoring the exchange between backbone amide hydrogen atoms and deuterium in the solvent. To maintain the label for analysis, quench conditions of low temperature and pH are required during the chromatography step performed after protease digestion but before mass spectrometry. Separation at 0°C is often chosen as this is the temperature where the most deuterium can be recovered without freezing of the typical water and acetonitrile mobile phases. Several recent reports of separations at subzero Celsius emphasize the promise for retaining more deuterium and using a much longer chromatographic gradient or direct infusion time. Here we present the construction and validation of a modified Waters nanoACQUITY HDX manager with a third temperature-controlled zone for peptide separations at subzero temperatures. A new Peltier-cooled door replaces the door of a traditional main cooling chamber and the separations and trapping column are routed through the door housing. To prevent freezing, 35% methanol is introduced post online digestion. No new pumps are required and online digestion is performed as in the past. Subzero separations, using conventional HPLC column geometry of 3μ m particles in a 1×50mm column, did not result in major changes to chromatographic efficiency when lowering the temperature from 0 to -20°C. There were significant increases in deuterium recovery for both model peptides and biologically relevant protein systems. Given the higher levels of deuterium recovery, expanded gradient programs can be used to allow for higher chromatographic peak capacity and therefore the analysis of larger and more complex proteins and systems.

Keywords: Deuterium recovery; HDX MS; Low temperature separation; Subzero chromatography.

MeSH terms

  • Amides / chemistry
  • Chemistry Techniques, Analytical / methods*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Deuterium / chemistry
  • Deuterium Exchange Measurement*
  • Hydrogen / chemistry
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / isolation & purification*
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / isolation & purification*
  • Solvents


  • Amides
  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Solvents
  • Hydrogen
  • Deuterium