Effect of droplet lifetime on where ions are formed in electrospray ionization†
The location of gaseous ion formation in electrospray ionization under native mass spectrometry conditions was investigated using theta emitters with tip diameters between 317 nm and 4.4 μm to produce droplets with lifetimes between 1 and 50 μs. Mass spectra of β-lactoglobulin do not depend on instrument source temperatures between 160 and 300 °C with the smallest tips. A high charge-state distribution is observed for larger tips that produce droplets with lifetimes ≥10 μs and this distribution increases at higher source temperatures. These and other results show that gaseous protein ions originating from the smallest droplets are formed outside of the mass spectrometer whereas the majority of protein ions formed from the larger droplets are formed inside of the mass spectrometer where thermal heating of the droplet and concomitant protein unfolding inside of the droplet occurs. These results show that small emitter tips are advantageous in native mass spectrometry by eliminating effects of thermal destabilization of proteins in droplets inside of the mass spectrometer, eliminating the effects of non-specific protein dimerization and aggregation that can occur in larger droplets that contain more than one protein molecule, and significantly reducing salt adduction.