Computer-aided gradient optimization of hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatographic separations of intact proteins and protein glycoforms

Guusje van Schaick, Bob W.J. Pirok, Rob Haselberg, Govert W. Somsen, Andrea F.G. Gargano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Protein glycosylation is one of the most common and critical post-translational modification, which results from covalent attachment of carbohydrates to protein backbones. Glycosylation affects the physicochemical properties of proteins and potentially their function. Therefore it is important to establish analytical methods which can resolve glycoforms of glycoproteins. Recently, hydrophilic-interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC)-mass spectrometry has demonstrated to be a useful tool for the efficient separation and characterization of intact protein glycoforms. In particular, amide-based stationary phases in combination with acetonitrile-water gradients containing ion-pairing agents, have been used for the characterization of glycoproteins. However, finding the optimum gradient conditions for glycoform resolution can be quite tedious as shallow gradients (small decrease of acetonitrile percentage in the elution solvent over a long time)are required. In the present study, the retention mechanism and peak capacity of HILIC for non-glycosylated and glycosylated proteins were investigated and compared to reversed-phase liquid chromatography (RPLC). For both LC modes, ln k vs. φ plots of a series of test proteins were calculated using linear solvent strength (LSS)analysis. For RPLC, the plots were spread over a wider φ range than for HILIC, suggesting that HILIC methods require shallower gradients to resolve intact proteins. Next, the usefulness of computer-aided method development for the optimization of the separation of intact glycoform by HILIC was examined. Five retention models including LSS, adsorption, and mixed-mode, were tested to describe and predict glycoprotein retention under gradient conditions. The adsorption model appeared most suited and was applied to the gradient prediction for the separation of the glycoforms of six glycoproteins (Ides-digested trastuzumab, alpha-acid glycoprotein, ovalbumin, fetuin and thyroglobulin)employing the program PIOTR. Based on the results of three scouting gradients, conditions for high-efficiency separations of protein glycoforms varying in the degree and complexity of glycosylation was achieved, thereby significantly reducing the time needed for method optimization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-76
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Chromatography A
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Computer-aided method development
  • Glycoform separations
  • Intact protein separation
  • Middle-up protein analysis


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