Concept

Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization

Summary
In mass spectrometry, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) is an ionization technique that uses a laser energy-absorbing matrix to create ions from large molecules with minimal fragmentation. It has been applied to the analysis of biomolecules (biopolymers such as DNA, proteins, peptides and carbohydrates) and various organic molecules (such as polymers, dendrimers and other macromolecules), which tend to be fragile and fragment when ionized by more conventional ionization methods. It is similar in character to electrospray ionization (ESI) in that both techniques are relatively soft (low fragmentation) ways of obtaining ions of large molecules in the gas phase, though MALDI typically produces far fewer multi-charged ions. MALDI methodology is a three-step process. First, the sample is mixed with a suitable matrix material and applied to a metal plate. Second, a pulsed laser irradiates the sample, triggering ablation and desorption of the sample and matrix material. Finally, the analyte molecules are ionized by being protonated or deprotonated in the hot plume of ablated gases, and then they can be accelerated into whichever mass spectrometer is used to analyse them. History of mass spectrometry The term matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI) was coined in 1985 by Franz Hillenkamp, Michael Karas and their colleagues. These researchers found that the amino acid alanine could be ionized more easily if it was mixed with the amino acid tryptophan and irradiated with a pulsed 266 nm laser. The tryptophan was absorbing the laser energy and helping to ionize the non-absorbing alanine. Peptides up to the 2843 Da peptide melittin could be ionized when mixed with this kind of "matrix". The breakthrough for large molecule laser desorption ionization came in 1987 when Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu Corporation and his co-workers used what they called the "ultra fine metal plus liquid matrix method" that combined 30 nm cobalt particles in glycerol with a 337 nm nitrogen laser for ionization.
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