Differentiation of Seven Isomeric n-Pentylquinoline Radical Cations Based on Energy-Resolved Medium-Energy Collision-Activated Dissociation

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2023 Jan 4;34(1):48-63. doi: 10.1021/jasms.2c00239. Epub 2022 Dec 12.


Asphaltenes, a major and undesirable component of heavy crude oil, contain many different types of large aromatic compounds. These compounds include nitrogen-containing heteroaromatic compounds that are thought to be the main culprit in the deactivation of catalysts in crude oil refinery processes. Unfortunately, prevention of this is challenging as the structures and properties of the nitrogen-containing heteroaromatic compounds are poorly understood. To facilitate their structural characterization, an approach based on ion-trap collision-activated dissociation (ITCAD) tandem mass spectrometry followed by energy-resolved medium-energy collision-activated dissociation (ER-MCAD) was developed for the differentiation of seven isomeric molecular radical cations of n-pentylquinoline. The fragmentation of each isomer was found to be distinctly different and depended largely on the site of the alkyl side chain in the quinoline ring. In order to better understand the observed fragmentation pathways, mechanisms for the formation of several fragment ions were delineated based on quantum chemical calculations. The fast benzylic α-bond cleavage that dominates the fragmentation of analogous nonheteroaromatic alkylbenzenes was only observed for the 3-isomer as the major pathway due to the lack of favorable low-energy rearrangement reactions. All the other isomeric ions underwent substantially lower-energy rearrangement reactions as their alkyl chains were found to interact mostly via 6-membered transition states either with the quinoline nitrogen (2- and 8-isomers) or the adjacent carbon atom in the quinoline core (4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-isomers), which lowered the activation energies of the fragmentation reactions. The presented analytical approach will facilitate the structural characterization of nitrogen-containing heteroaromatic compounds in asphaltenes.