Mass defect is defined as the difference between a compound's exact mass and its nominal mass. This concept has been increasingly used in mass spectrometry over the years, mainly due to the growing use of high resolution mass spectrometers capable of exact mass measurements in many application areas in analytical and bioanalytical chemistry. This article is meant as an introduction to the different uses of mass defect in applications using modern MS instrumentation. Visualizing complex mass spectra may be simplified with the concept of Kendrick mass by plotting nominal mass as a function of Kendrick mass defect, based on hydrocarbons subunits, as well as slight variations on this theme. Mass defect filtering of complex MS data has been used for selectively detecting compounds of interest, including drugs and their metabolites or endogenous compounds such as peptides and small molecule metabolites. Several strategies have been applied for labeling analytes with reagents containing unique mass defect features, thus shifting molecules into a less noisy area in the mass spectrum, thus increasing their detectability, especially in the area of proteomics. All these concepts will be covered to introduce the interested reader to the plethora of possibilities of mass defect analysis of high resolution mass spectra.
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