Composition of mobile phase can greatly influence the success of electrospray ionization (ESI)-interfaced liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. To investigate the relationship between formic-acid-based modification of mobile phase and ESI nebulizing conditions, an API 4000 ESI source and a TSQ Quantum one were compared under the same chromatographic conditions. Ginkgo terpene lactones and flavonols were measured in plasma, which involved using ascorbic acid to circumvent cross-interference between the analytes. ESI responses to using formic acid included changes in signal intensity, matrix effect, and upper limit of quantification. Significant disparities in the responses were observed between the two ESI sources, suggesting that the use of electrolyte modifier in liquid chromatography mobile phase and the pneumatic nebulization for ESI should be properly balanced to accomplish optimal ESI-based analysis. The distribution of unpaired ions toward the surface of the initial droplet was assumed to be an important step in the pneumatic ESI process. When using the electrolyte in mobile phase, a too fast droplet reduction by rapid-heating-assisted pneumatic nebulization could negatively decrease the time available for the unpaired ions to migrate from droplet interior to its surface. Ascorbic acid was identified as a major interfering substance for the bioanalytical assay; the interference mechanism might be associated with hindering the unpaired analyte ions from distributing toward the droplet surface rather than outcompeting the analyte ions for the limited excess charge on droplets surface. The current work extends the knowledge base of pneumatic ESI, which has implication for optimal use of the ESI-interfaced liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry technique.
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