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Vacuum Matrix-Assisted Ionization Source Offering Simplicity, Sensitivity, and Exceptional Robustness in Mass Spectrometry

Trimpin, Sarah, Pophristic, Milan, Adeniji-Adele, Adetoun, Tomsho, John W., McEwen, Charles N.
Analytical chemistry 2018 v.90 no.19 pp. 11188-11192
air flow, atomization, cleaning, desorption, drugs, electric potential, erythromycin, gases, heat, ionization, ions, mass spectrometry, spectrometers
Vacuum matrix-assisted ionization (vMAI) uses select matrix compounds which when exposed to the vacuum of a mass spectrometer produce gas-phase ions from associated volatile or nonvolatile analyte without external energy input. Here, a vMAI source was constructed to replace the commercial inlet of a Thermo Orbitrap mass spectrometer. This allowed for rapid introduction of the matrix/analyte sample by a probe, contrary to vacuum matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) sources. The matrix/analyte sample is inserted into a region of the “S-lens” entrance, where the spontaneously formed ions can be effectively transferred to the mass analyzer. This specifically designed ion source requires no laser, high voltage, heat, or nebulizing gases. A low voltage is used to transmit the ions through the commercial “S-lens” assembly and airflow can be used to modulate the ionization event. A few picograms of the drug erythromycin, assisted by the 3-nitrobenzonitrile vMAI matrix, is sufficient to produce mass spectra for over 1 min with the MH⁺ ion as the base peak in each mass spectrum. There is minimal carryover when loading high concentration samples and complex mixtures, contrary to direct infusion electrospray ionization, providing the probe is thoroughly cleaned between each new sample acquisition. Analyses of biological fluids, bacterial extracts, tissue, and high concentration samples have so far shown no indication of inlet or instrument contamination with these samples. The typical ultrahigh resolution and mass accuracy of the mass spectrometer are achieved, and a path forward to potential high throughput acquisitions demonstrated. It is expected that robustness can be introduced to any mass spectrometer through implementation of such a simple source.