Mass spectrometry became one of the most powerful tool in physical chemistry and biophysics. MS is now a major tool in analytical and bioanalytical methods, allowing rapid identification, structure analysis and quantification of analytes in complex matrices.

Prof. E. De Pauw funded the Mass spectrometry Laboratory (MSLAB) in 1994, now led by Prof. Gauthier Eppe since October 2019 with Prof. Loïc Quinton as Vice-Director. A constant concern has been to develop new concepts about innovative uses of mass spectrometry and developing new analytical advanced methods to the scientific community. The rate of publication lies between 15 and 20 papers per year and the Laboratory is present at all major international conferences in Mass Spectrometry and related topics.

The MS platform presents an outstanding panel of the latest technologies, including routine analysis and prototypes for the development of new methods.

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Fundamental research is at the heart of the laboratory. It concerns the study of the ionization mechanism and its effect on the structure of the ions, the gas phase structure and reactivity of the ions (activation by electrons, photons, ion mobility, HD exchange, folding processes) and the spatial localization of analytes by Mass Spectrometry Imaging.

Imaging Mass Spectrometry is used in various fields, Chemical Communication between hosts and pathogens, molecular histology, forensics. Coupled to Raman imaging, it is now part of a multimodal imaging platform. The laboratory joined several regional, national and European projects including an European Infrastructure Network, focused on high field FT-ICR MS (EU-FTICRMS). Several international collaborations are active in the fields of structure analysis of complex systems, peptidomics, cross linking and hydrogen deuterium exchange. The MSLAB is in close contact with the Organic and Biological Mass Spectrometry, headed by J.F Focant, specialist in GC×GC MS. Moreover the MS-LAB continuously develops internal collaborations within the Molecular Systems (MolSys) research Unit.

Several large projects have been recently granted and this, coupled with service to external research and industry secures the funding and allows self-supported investment for staff and instrumentation. A plan for the renewing of the instrumentation within the next 5 years is in discussion.

To promote basic and applied research, two platforms offer analytical services under quality management. The CART is a EU national reference laboratory for the analysis of dioxins and related compounds. The Proteomics Platform is one of the platforms of the GIGA research Center. It offers up to date proteomics services and is AFMPS compliant (National Agency for Health products). It has been now extended as an inter-university platform as MSQUANTA.

MSLab – Analytics

MSLab-Analytics focusses on the development of analytical strategies and novel technologies-concepts for small organic and inorganic compounds based on Mass Spectrometry and Raman Spectroscopy. Research interests are mainly oriented towards food safety, in close connection to CART activities, by developing its forefront research like furan and alkylfurans in food (MEFURAN project, SPF public health 2019-2021) or by coupling ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IM-MS) to enhance the screening approach of pesticides in food. MSLab-Analytics works also in the field of environmental sciences to propose original methods to detect plastics and micro-plastics by Raman Spectroscopy. The thematic of the group recently evolves towards integrated approaches including, for instance, miniaturized microfluidic systems for sample treatment, nanoparticles synthesis and on line-SERS probe measurement system; development of quantitative approach to support multimodal imaging by Raman Spectroscopy and Mass Spectrometry for clinical applications (in close connection to MSLab-Imaging); synthesis of customized (bio)chemical nanoprobes for multimodal analyses by multiplex SERS and Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry. Raman is also used for space exploration (Detection of organic compounds (potential biomarkers) in mineral solid powders and bioinorganic materials.

MSLab – Biology

MSLab-Biology focusses on the development of innovative mass-spectrometry based strategies to characterize biological systems, from single bioactive peptides to large macromolecular protein assemblies.

Relying on the use of advanced activation processes and affinity chromatography, the main expertise of MSLab-Biology is the characterization of structures and bioactivities of highly-modified peptides/proteins. MSLab Biology is moreover strongly involved in various themes targeting the comprehensive study of chemical communication between organisms by MS imaging, the fine structural characterization of highly valuable molecular systems such as antibodies, including their patterns of glycosylation, or the lipid profiling of biological samples.

MSLab-Biology topics of interest are strongly evolving towards the study of larger protein assemblies by the mean of cutting-edge “native-MS” tools. Chemical cross-linking combined to hydrogen-deuterium exchange is the main strategy developed to decipher protein structures and assemblies.

MSLab – Fun

Fundamental aspects of mass spectrometry are the key for successful development of innovative applications.

The mass resolution and accuracy, the fine isotopic signature in FTICR-MS allow identification of chemicals in complex mixtures such in the case of Imaging Mass Spectrometry or infusion (Imaging EU Infrastructure project EU-FTICRMS, EURlipids Interreg project). Applied to host pathogens interactions (Rhizoclip, FNRS- EOS project and for biofilms degradation processes (OrthEnzy,Walloon region funded project) ), it is a powerful method to identify new biologically important molecules.

The role of ion formation process in the possible conservation of the three-dimensional structure of ions in the gas phase as well as the effect of activation methods is crucial when inferring links between solution and gas phase structure as in “native” mass spectrometry. Hyphenation is a general trend in analytical methods. The coupling of mass spectrometry with ion mobility and trapped ion mobility (gas phase) or with capillary electrophoresis (solution) brings new tools to study 3D structure of complex systems using hydrogen deuterium exchange and cross linking (funded by the FNRS Large Equipment 2018 call).

The development of new software tools for large data sets analysis is mandatory. The introduction of multidimensional-Kendrick and van Krevelen plots in Mass Spectrometry Imaging gives a powerful method for a quick overview of families of compounds present in regions of interest. The same approach is developed in other multidimensional analytical methods and in isotope labelling data analysis.

MSLab – Imaging

Experts are also developing imaging strategies at the MSLab for characterising the molecular composition of structured samples, from the cells to organs or small organisms. MSLab-Imaging focusses on the development of advanced strategies for Mass Spectrometry imaging based on Laser Desorption/Ionisation (LDI), Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionisation (MALDI) and Solid Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionisation (SALDI). Research topics include, but are not restricted to, generation of molecular images of biofilms, tissues, organs, and dried biofluid spots to investigate biodegradation, cellular communication or pathological pathways from a molecular point of view. Both targeted and non-targeted approaches are used to monitor the spatial molecular composition of the sample and/or identify key molecules responsible for the (bio)chemical processes. In addition, multimodal approaches integrating different Mass Spectrometry Imaging techniques, but also other complementary imaging spectroscopy techniques, such as Raman spectroscopy, are developed to fully apprehend the molecular complexity of one sample.

MSLab – Omics

Since 2 decades the Mass Spectrometry Laboratory (MSLab) is involved in several research projects related to the field of proteomics and biomolecule characterization using mass spectrometry. Hundreds of scientific articles have already been published in world-class journals.

The MSLab is a strong leader in the field of Proteomics (MSLab Omics) and develop original analytical methods based on high-end instrumentation (link vers l’instrumentation du laboratoire) in close contact with our local, national and international collaborators. These include the characterization of altered proteomes through the analysis of several specific post-translational modifications and classic differential shotgun proteomics, integrated proteomics – peptidomics – metabolomics studies of biological systems, micro proteomics studies through tissue laser microdissected sample analyses and developments and standardization of workflows for absolute quantitation of biomolecules in complex matrices. New methods based on the coupling of capillary electrophoresis with high-end mass spectrometric detection also provide the determination of metabolic flux of very hydrophilic metabolites directly from biological origin complex samples. MALDI-imaging based methods are also under investigation to access the spatial distribution of metabolites of interest.