Analytica chimica acta

Coffee-ring effects in laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry.

PMID 23427803


This report focuses on the heterogeneous distribution of small molecules (e.g. metabolites) within dry deposits of suspensions and solutions of inorganic and organic compounds with implications for chemical analysis of small molecules by laser desorption/ionization (LDI) mass spectrometry (MS). Taking advantage of the imaging capabilities of a modern mass spectrometer, we have investigated the occurrence of "coffee rings" in matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) and surface-assisted laser desorption/ionization (SALDI) sample spots. It is seen that the "coffee-ring effect" in MALDI/SALDI samples can be both beneficial and disadvantageous. For example, formation of the coffee rings gives rise to heterogeneous distribution of analytes and matrices, thus compromising analytical performance and reproducibility of the mass spectrometric analysis. On the other hand, the coffee-ring effect can also be advantageous because it enables partial separation of analytes from some of the interfering molecules present in the sample. We report a "hidden coffee-ring effect" where under certain conditions the sample/matrix deposit appears relatively homogeneous when inspected by optical microscopy. Even in such cases, hidden coffee rings can still be found by implementing the MALDI-MS imaging technique. We have also found that to some extent, the coffee-ring effect can be suppressed during SALDI sample preparation.