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Journal Articles Mass Spectrometry Reviews Year : 2014

Maldi of Synthetic Polymers with Labile End-Groups

Laurence Charles


Mass spectrometry is increasingly used in the field of synthetic polymers as a fast and accurate technique for end-group analysis. More particularly, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) has gained much popularity because it allows quite simple mass spectra to be obtained, displaying a single distribution for each polymeric species present in the sample, in contrast to electrospray ionization (ESI) which readily promotes multiple charging for most polymers. A soft ionization process, ensuring the integrity of the species upon transfer into gas phase ions, is however mandatory for polymer end-group analysis since information about the chain terminations mainly rely on the m/z values measured for polymer adducts. As compared to ESI, MALDI is sometimes suspected to be a quite hard ionization technique, leading to spontaneous dissociation of ionized species either in the source or during their flight time. This issue is of particular concern for polymers carrying so-called fragile end-groups arising from their mode of synthesis. In particular, controlled radical polymerization (CRP) processes, one of the most important advances in the field of polymer science during the last 20 years, allow the production of polymers with well-defined molecular distribution and low polydispersities, but they are all based on the low dissociation energy of the chemical bond between the last monomer and the terminating group. As a result, if macromolecules are activated while being ionized, this end-group is prone to fragmentation and ions measured in the mass spectra do no longer reflect the original chain composition. However, different results are reported in the literature about the ability of MALDI to generate intact ions from CRP synthetic polymers. This article reviews MALDI MS data reported for synthetic polymers produced by atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP), reversible addition-fragmentation transfer polymerization (RAFT), and nitroxide-mediated polymerization (NMP), the three most studied CRP techniques. The general principle of each polymerization process, which defines the structure of the end-groups in both targeted macromolecules and species arising from eventual side-reactions, is first briefly presented. An overview of MALDI data reported for samples obtained upon polymerization of different monomers are then commented for each polymerization techniques with regards to the success of the ionization method to generate intact cationic adducts and its propensity to distinguish in-source fragments from polymerization side-products. (c) 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Mass Spec Rev 33: 523-543, 2014.

Dates and versions

hal-01460494 , version 1 (07-02-2017)



Laurence Charles. Maldi of Synthetic Polymers with Labile End-Groups. Mass Spectrometry Reviews, 2014, 33 (6), pp.523--543. ⟨10.1002/mas.21403⟩. ⟨hal-01460494⟩
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