Separation of flavonoid isomers by cyclic ion mobility mass spectrometry

de Bruin, Carlo Roberto; Hennebelle, Marie; Vincken, Jean Paul; de Bruijn, Wouter J.C.


Analytical techniques, such as liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), are widely used for characterization of complex mixtures of (isomeric) proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and phytochemicals in food. Food can contain isomers that are challenging to separate, but can possess different reactivity and bioactivity. Catechins are the main phenolic compounds in tea; they can be present as various stereoisomers, which differ in their chemical properties. Currently, there is a lack of fast and direct methods to monitor interconversion and individual reactivity of these epimers (e.g. epicatechin (EC) and catechin (C)). In this study, cyclic ion mobility mass spectrometry (cIMS-MS) was explored as a potential tool for the separation of catechin epimers. Formation of sodium and lithium adducts enhanced IMS separation of catechin epimers, compared to deprotonation and protonation. Baseline separation of the sodium adducts of catechin epimers was achieved. Moreover, we developed a fast method for the identification and semi-quantification of cIMS-MS separated catechin epimers. With this method, it is possible to semi-quantify the ratio between EC and C (1:5 to 5:1, within 50–1200 ng mL−1) in food samples, such as tea. Finally, the newly developed approach for cIMS-MS separation of flavonoids was demonstrated to be successful in separation of two sets of positional isomers (i.e. morin, tricetin, and quercetin; and kaempferol, fisetin, luteolin, and scutellarein). To conclude, we showed that both epimers and positional isomers of flavonoids can be separated using cIMS-MS, and established the potential of this method for challenging flavonoid separations.