We report a method for the simultaneous identification and quantification of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), monomethyl-phosphatidylethanolamine (MMPE), dimethyl-phosphatidylethanolamine (DMPE), and phosphatidylcholine (PC) species in lipid extracts. The method employs a specific "mass-tag" strategy where DMPE, MMPE, and PE species are chemically methylated with deuterated methyliodide (CD(3)I) to produce PC molecules having class-specific mass offsets of 3, 6 and 9Da, respectively. The derivatized aminoglycerophospholipids release characteristic phosphorylcholine-like fragment ions having specific mass offsets that powers sensitive and quantitative analysis by multiple precursor ion scanning on a hybrid quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Using the mass-tag strategy, we could for the first time determine the stoichiometric relationship between the biosynthetic intermediates MMPE and DMPE, and abundant PE and PC species in a single mass spectrometric analysis. We demonstrated the efficacy of the methodology by conducting a series of biochemical experiments using stable isotope labeled ethanolamine to survey the activities and substrate specificities of enzymes involved in PE metabolism in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Finally, we benchmarked the mass-tag strategy by specific and sensitive profiling of intermediate MMPE and DMPE species in liver.
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