Microcystins are cyclic heptapeptides produced by a range of cyanobacteria. More than 150 microcystin analogues have been reported from cultures, algal blooms, or other contaminated samples. Relatively few analytical standards are available, making identification and quantitation of these toxins a challenge, even with LC-MS technology. We developed a two-step oxidative procedure that allows LC-MS identification of microcystins containing methionine and methionine sulfoxide, and reveals the oxidation state of the methionyl sulfur atom. The procedure was used in parallel with mercaptoethanol derivatization and LC-MS2 analysis to demonstrate the presence of [Asp3]MC-MR (12) and MC-MR (17) in a culture of Dolichospermum flos-aquae, together with low levels of [Asp3]MC-M(O)R (5) and MC-M(O)R (7), as well as 20 other microcystins. Fresh culture contained only traces of sulfoxides 5 and 7, but these increased during storage or sample extraction and preparation. This suggests that microcystins containing methionine sulfoxide are primarily postextraction oxidation artifacts, rather than being produced by biosynthesis in cyanobacteria. A simple, rapid extraction under inert gas followed promptly by LC-MS analysis minimized oxidation artifacts for D. flos-aquae.
Environmental Science and Technology48, no. 22 (21 October 2014): 13307–13315.