Non-linear effects in quantitative 2D NMR of polysaccharides: Pitfalls and how to avoid them

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Quantitative 2D NMR is a powerful analytical tool which is widely used to determine the concentration of small molecules in complex samples. Due to the site-specific response of the 2D NMR signal, the determination of absolute concentrations requires the use of a calibration or standard addition approach, where the analyte acts as its own reference. Standard addition methods, where the targeted sample is gradually spiked with known amounts of the targeted analyte, are particularly well-suited for quantitative 2D NMR of small molecules. This paper explores the potential of such quantitative 2D NMR approaches for the quantitative analysis of a high molecular weight polysaccharide. The results highlight that the standard addition method leads to a strong under-estimation of the target concentration, whatever the 2D NMR pulse sequence. Diffusion measurements show that a change in the macromolecular organization of the studied polysaccharide is the most probable hypothesis to explain the non-linear evolution of the 2D NMR signal with concentration. In spite of this non-linearity – the detailed explanation of which is out of the scope of this paper – we demonstrate that accurate quantitative results can still be obtained provided that an external calibration is performed with a wide range of concentrations surrounding the target value. This study opens the way to a number of studies where 2D NMR is needed for the quantitative analysis of macromolecules.

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