Compositional analysis of organosolv poplar lignin by using high-performance liquid chromatography/high-resolution multi-stage tandem mass spectrometry†
Organosolv treatment is an efficient and environmentally friendly process to degrade lignin into small compounds. The capability of characterizing the individual compounds in the complex mixtures formed upon organosolv treatment is essential for the optimization of the further lignin conversion processes and for the rational genetic engineering of plants used to produce lignin in order to improve lignin properties. In this study, an organosolv poplar lignin sample was initially analyzed by high-resolution mass spectrometry coupled with negative-ion mode electrospray ionization ((−)ESI HRMS). Lignin monomers and dimers were found to constitute the majority of the compounds in the organosolv lignin sample. Larger lignin oligomers, such as trimers and tetramers, and some not lignin-related compounds, were also detected. A high-performance liquid chromatograph/linear quadrupole ion trap/orbitrap mass spectrometer capable of multi-stage high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry experiments (HRMSn), equipped with an (−)ESI source (HPLC/(−)ESI HRMSn), was employed to separate the unknown compounds in the organosolv mixture and to obtain structural information for the deprotonated compounds via collision-activated dissociation (CAD) HRMSn experiments. To improve the understanding of the CAD behavior of deprotonated lignin-related compounds, 16 deprotonated model compounds with different functionalities and linkage types were examined. This approach enabled the assignment of likely structures for several lignin monomers, dimers, trimers, and tetramers, and some not lignin-related compounds, most likely fatty acids. Based on the proposed structures, compounds in the organosolv lignin sample contain β-O-4, 5–5, β-5, and possibly also 4-O-5 linkages. Most compounds contain G- and S-monomeric units although a small amount of H-units were also detected.