N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHL) are small signal molecules involved in the quorum sensing of many gram-negative bacteria, and play an important role in biofilm formation and pathogenesis. Present analytical methods for identification and quantification of AHL require time-consuming sample preparation steps and are hampered by the lack of appropriate standards. By aiming at a fast and straightforward method for AHL analytics, we investigated the applicability of matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). Suitable MALDI matrices, including crystalline and ionic liquid matrices, were tested and the fragmentation of different AHL in collision-induced dissociation MS/MS was studied, providing information about characteristic marker fragments ions. Employing small-scale synthesis protocols, we established a versatile and cost-efficient procedure for fast generation of isotope-labeled AHL standards, which can be used without extensive purification and yielded accurate standard curves. Quantitative analysis was possible in the low pico-molar range, with lower limits of quantification reaching from 1 to 5 pmol for different AHL. The developed methodology was successfully applied in a quantitative MALDI MS analysis of low-volume culture supernatants of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Graphical abstract ᅟ.
Keywords: Internal standard; Ionic liquid matrices; Isotope labeling; Low molecular weight; Quantification; Quantitative MALDI; Quorum sensing.