Microgradient separation technique for purification and fractionation of permethylated N-glycans before mass spectrometric analyses

J Sep Sci. 2018 May;41(9):1973-1982. doi: 10.1002/jssc.201701339. Epub 2018 Mar 6.


Analysis of N-glycans released enzymatically from patients' sera or other clinical samples may provide diagnostically and prognostically important information on human disease. Permethylation of these biomolecules simultaneously increases their hydrophobicity and substantially improves their detection parameters in the following mass spectrometric analyses. The overall procedure, from the glycan cleavage to the final mass spectrometric determinations, includes several steps involving extraction, derivatization, and purification. During these steps, certain polymeric contaminants that may have been coincidentally introduced could hamper the final measurements. To understand and counter these interferences and further fractionate or preconcentrate these glycans, we introduce here an effective microgradient chromatographic technique that employs a small reversed-phase microcolumn connected to a gas-tight microsyringe delivering a mobile-phase gradient. After loading the glycan fraction onto the microcolumn, three elution steps are recommended: (1) remove polar contaminants; (2) recover permethylated glycans for either liquid chromatography with electrospray ionization mass spectrometry or matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry; and (3) remove larger polymeric contaminants and regenerate the precolumn. We further demonstrate that the trapped second fraction can be beneficially preconcentrated and further separated to achieve matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometric detection of the derivatized N-glycans up to 6300 Da. The enhanced detection capabilities for tetra-antennary N-glycans are of increasing interest in disease biomarker discovery.

Keywords: ascites fluid; microgradient elution; permethylated N-glycans; reversed-phase preconcentration; serum.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Chemical Fractionation
  • Chromatography
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / blood*
  • Polysaccharides / analysis*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Polysaccharides