Characterization of synthetic oligonucleotides containing biologically important modified bases by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry

Zhengfang Cui, Jacob A. Theruvathu, Alvin Farrel, Artur Burdzy, Lawrence C. Sowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


Oligonucleotides containing modified bases are commonly used for biochemical and biophysical studies to assess the impact of specific types of chemical damage on DNA structure and function. In contrast to the synthesis of oligonucleotides with normal DNA bases, oligonucleotide synthesis with modified bases often requires modified synthetic or deprotection conditions. Furthermore, several modified bases of biological interest are prone to further damage during synthesis and oligonucleotide isolation. In this article, we describe the application of matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS) to the characterization of a series of modified synthetic oligonucleotides. The potential for and limits in obtaining high mass accuracy for confirming oligonucleotide composition are discussed. Examination of the isotope cluster is also proposed as a method for confirming oligonucleotide elemental composition. MALDI-TOF-MS analysis of the unpurified reaction mixture can be used to confirm synthetic sequence and to reveal potential problems during synthesis. Analysis during and after purification can yield important information on depurination and base oxidation. It can also reveal unexpected problems that can occur with nonstandard synthesis, deprotection, or purification strategies. Proper characterization of modified oligonucleotides is essential for the correct interpretation of experiments performed with these substrates, and MALDI-TOF-MS analysis provides a simple yet extensive method of characterization that can be used at multiple stages of oligonucleotide production and use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-207
Number of pages12
JournalAnalytical Biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 15 2008
Externally publishedYes



  • Base analogs
  • Isotope cluster
  • Oxidative damage
  • Synthetic oligonucleotides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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