Dimethylcysteine (DiCys)/ o-Phthalaldehyde Derivatization for Chiral Metabolite Analyses: Cross-Comparison of Six Chiral Thiols

Metabolomics profiling using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) has become an important tool in biomedical research. However, resolving enantiomers still represents a significant challenge in the metabolomics study of complex samples. Here, we introduced N,N-dimethyl-l-cysteine (dimethylcysteine, DiCys), a chiral thiol, for the o-phthalaldehyde (OPA) derivatization of enantiomeric amine metabolites. We took interest in DiCys because of its potential for multiplex isotope-tagged quantification. Here, we characterized the usefulness of DiCys in reversed-phase LC-MS analyses of chiral metabolites, compared against five commonly used chiral thiols: N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC); N-acetyl-d-penicillamine (NAP); isobutyryl-l-cysteine (IBLC); N-(tert-butoxycarbonyl)-l-cysteine methyl ester (NBC); and N-(tert-butylthiocarbamoyl)-l-cysteine ethyl ester (BTCC). DiCys and IBLC showed the best overall performance in terms of chiral separation, fluorescence intensity, and ionization efficiency. For chiral separation of amino acids, DiCys/OPA also outperformed Marfey’s reagents: 1-fluoro-2-4-dinitrophenyl-5-l-valine amide (FDVA) and 1-fluoro-2-4-dinitrophenyl-5-l-alanine amide (FDAA). As proof of principle, we compared DiCys and IBLC for detecting chiral metabolites in aqueous extracts of rice. By LC-MS analyses, both methods detected twenty proteinogenic l-amino acids and seven d-amino acids (Ala, Arg, Lys, Phe, Ser, Tyr, and Val), but DiCys showed better analyte separation. We conclude that DiCys/OPA is an excellent amine-derivatization method for enantiomeric metabolite detection in LC-MS analyses.


chiral metabolomics; d-amino acids; dimethyl labeling; enantiomer separation; rice water.

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