Solvent-Mediated Proton-Transfer Catalysis of the Gas-Phase Isomerization of Ciprofloxacin Protomers

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Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry


Understanding how neutral molecules become protonated during positive-ion electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry is critically important to ensure analytes can be efficiently ionized, detected, and unambiguously identified. The ESI solvent is one of several parameters that can alter the dominant site of protonation in polyfunctional molecules and thus, in turn, can significantly change the collision-induced dissociation (CID) mass spectra relied upon for compound identification. Ciprofloxacin-a common fluoroquinolone antibiotic-is one such example whereby positive-ion ESI can result in gas-phase [M + H]+ ions protonated at either the keto-oxygen or the piperazine-nitrogen. Here, we demonstrate that these protonation isomers (or protomers) of ciprofloxacin can be resolved by differential ion mobility spectrometry and give rise to distinctive CID mass spectra following both charge-directed and charge-remote mechanisms. Interaction of mobility-selected protomers with methanol vapor (added via the throttle gas supply) was found to irreversibly convert the piperazine N-protomer to the keto-O-protomer. This methanol-mediated proton-transport catalysis is driven by the overall exothermicity of the reaction, which is computed to favor the O-protomer by 93 kJ mol-1 (in the gas phase). Conversely, gas phase interactions of mobility-selected ions with acetonitrile vapor selectively depletes the N-protomer ion signal as formation of stable [M + H + CH3CN]+ cluster ions skews the apparent protomer population ratio, as the O-protomer is unaffected. These findings provide a mechanistic basis for tuning protomer populations to ensure faithful characterization of multifunctional molecules by tandem mass spectrometry.

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