Factors such as high polymer dispersity and variation in elemental composition (of copolymers) often complicate the electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) analysis of synthetic polymers with high molar mass. In the experiments described in this study, quaternary ammonium compounds were observed to facilitate the production of low charge state pseudomolecular ions when added to the spray solution for ESI-MS. This approach was then used for the ESI time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF-MS) analysis of synthetic polymers. Hexadecyltrimethylammonium chloride permitted the successful analysis of poly(ethylene glycol) of 2-40 kDa, poly(propylene glycol) and poly(tetramethylene glycol) oligomers. Increasing the quaternary ammonium compounds' concentration results in the production of low charge state pseudomolecular ions. A comparison of structurally different quaternary ammonium compounds showed that the best performance is expected from large molecules with specific charge localization, which leaves the charge available for interactions. The applicability of the method for the MS analysis of other polymeric systems was also studied. In the case of poly(tetramethylene glycol), the method not only shifted the distributions to higher m/z values but also allowed the detection of high molecular weight material that was not observed without addition of the modifier to the spray solution.

Anal. Chem.

Nasioudis, A., Joyce, W. F., van Velde, J. W., Heeren, R., & van den Brink, O. F. (2010). Formation of low charge state ions of synthetic polymers using quaternary ammonium compounds. Anal. Chem., 82(13), 5735–5742. doi:10.1021/ac100769u