“Ghost” fragment ions in structure and site-specific glycoproteomics analysis

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Mass spectrometry (MS) can unlock crucial insights into the intricate world of glycosylation analysis. Despite its immense potential, the qualitative and quantitative analysis of isobaric glycopeptide structures remains one of the most daunting hurdles in the field of glycoproteomics. The ability to distinguish between these complex glycan structures poses a significant challenge, hindering our ability to accurately measure and understand the role of glycoproteins in biological systems. A few recent publications described the use of collision energy (CE) modulation to improve structural elucidation, especially for qualitative purposes. Different linkages of glycan units usually demonstrate different stabilities under CID/HCD fragmentation conditions. Fragmentation of the glycan moiety produces low molecular weight ions (oxonium ions) that can serve as a structure-specific signature for specific glycan moieties, however, specificity of these fragments has never been examined closely. Here, we investigated fragmentation specificity using synthetic stable isotope-labelled glycopeptide standards. These standards were isotopically labelled at the reducing terminal GlcNAc, which allowed us to resolve fragments produced by oligomannose core moiety and fragments generated from outer antennary structures. Our research identified the potential for false positive structure assignments due to the occurrence of “Ghost” fragments resulting from single glyco unit rearrangement or mannose core fragmentation within the collision cell. To mitigate this issue, we have established a minimal intensity threshold for these fragments to prevent the misidentification of structure-specific fragments in glycoproteomics analysis. Our findings provide a crucial step forward in the quest for more accurate and reliable glycoproteomics measurements.

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