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Ribonucleic acid (RNA) modifications play an important role in the regulation of gene expression and the development of RNA-based therapeutics, but their identification, localization and relative quantitation by conventional biochemical methods can be quite challenging. As a promising alternative, mass spectrometry (MS) based approaches that involve RNA dissociation in ‘top-down’ strategies are currently being developed. For this purpose, it is essential to understand the dissociation mechanisms of unmodified and posttranscriptionally or synthetically modified RNA. Here, we have studied the effect of select nucleobase, ribose and backbone modifications on phosphodiester bond cleavage in collisionally activated dissociation (CAD) of positively and negatively charged RNA. We found that CAD of RNA is a stepwise reaction that is facilitated by, but does not require, the presence of positive charge. Preferred backbone cleavage next to adenosine and guanosine in CAD of (M+nH)n+ and (M−nH)n ions, respectively, is based on hydrogen bonding between nucleobase and phosphodiester moieties. Moreover, CAD of RNA involves an intermediate that is sufficiently stable to survive extension of the RNA structure and intramolecular proton redistribution according to simple Coulombic repulsion prior to backbone cleavage into c and y ions from phosphodiester bond cleavage.




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