Enhanced Electrospray In-source Fragmentation for Higher Sensitivity Data Independent Acquisition and Autonomous METLIN Molecular Identification

Electrospray ionization (ESI) in-source fragmentation (ISF) has traditionally been minimized to promote precursor molecular ion formation, and therefore its value in molecular identification underappreciated. Recently a METLIN-guided in-source annotation (MISA) algorithm was introduced to increase confidence in putative identifications by using ubiquitous in-source fragments. However, MISA is limited by ESI sources that are generally designed to minimize ISF. In this study, enhanced ISF with MISA (eMISA) was created by tuning the ISF conditions to generate in-source fragmentation patterns comparable with higher energy fragments generated at higher collision energies as deposited in the METLIN MS/MS library, without compromising the intensity of precursor ions (median loss ≤ 10% in both positive and negative ionization modes). The analysis of 50 molecules was used to validate the approach in comparison to MS/MS spectra produced via data dependent acquisition (DDA) and data independent acquisition mode (DIA) with quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (QTOF-MS). Enhanced ISF as compared to QTOF DDA, enables for higher peak intensities for the precursor ions (median: 18 times at negative mode and 210 times at positive mode), with the eMISA fragmentation patterns consistent with METLIN for over 90% of the molecules with respect to fragment relative intensity and m/z. eMISA also provides higher peak intensity as opposed to QTOF DIA with a median increase of 20% at negative mode and 80% at positive mode for all precursor ions. Metabolite identification with eMISA was also successfully validated from the analysis of a metabolic extract from macrophages. An interesting side benefit of enhanced ISF is that it significantly improved the compound identification confidence with low resolution single quadrupole mass spectrometry-based untargeted LC/MS experiments. Overall, enhanced ISF allowed for eMISA to be used as a more sensitive alternative to other QTOF DIA and DDA approaches, and further, it enables the acquisition of ESI TOF and ESI single quadrupole mass spectrometry instrumentation spectra with higher sensitivity and improved molecular identification confidence.