Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Three Most Common HPLC Questions and How To Solve Them

The three most common HPLC related questions I am asked each week can be summarized below. Test your basic chromatography knowledge. Before reading the answers, see if you can answer them correctly on your own.

  • "What Is Causing the HPLC Baseline, Pressure or Peak Retention Time(s) To: Wander, Change, Drift, Vary or be Unstable?"
  • "How Should I Wash or Regenerate My HPLC Column?"
  • "How Can I Tell if the Sample is Retained On the HPLC Column? or What Does It Mean When No Chromatography Took Place?"

Let us address each question in order and attempt to provide accurate answers (I have included links after each question to articles with more detailed explanations).

What Is Causing the HPLC Baseline, Pressure or Peak Retention Time(s) To: Wander, Change, Drift, Vary or be Unstable?
  • Retention times must be reproducible from run to run.The causes of an unstable baseline and/or changing peak retention time(s) are often related. Common reasons include: Column temperature fluctuations, inadequate mobile phase mixing or degassing, leaks, dirty column, sample overload, lack of pH or buffering control (weakly ionizable samples can be very sensitive to changes). *Full Article link with detailed answers, here.

How Should I Wash or Regenerate My HPLC Column?

Note: Before proceeding with any column regeneration or cleaning procedures, always refer to the specific advice provided by the column manufacturer. Approved maintenance and cleaning instructions can often be found in the product guide or booklet which comes with the new column. Additional information can be found on the vendor's website or by contacting them directly.
  • Two issues must be addressed to answer these types of questions. (1) Always wash your column with a specific column wash solution which is stronger than your analysis solution. The use of a stronger solution (In this context, "stronger" means better at dissolving the samples and faster at eluting them from the column) as the wash solution requires regular use to maintain the column. Failure to regularly wash your column may result in compounds accumulating on the column over time (fouling the column) resulting in poor reproducibility, higher back-pressures, contamination and/or poor peak shape. (2) Next, always wash your column after each analysis. This should be a separate step, not incorporated into your analysis method. The analysis method should not include the column re-equilibration steps at all. A second, separate wash method should always follow each analysis method which includes the rinsing of the column with a "stronger" solution for an adequate period of time, then adjustment back to initial conditions where re-equilibration can take place to get it ready for the next analysis run. These are fundamental guidelines of good method development and follow well established principles. Developing methods in this way should increase the lifetime of your columns and improve the reproducibility of results obtained (better %RSD run-to-run).
For more information on washing bound proteins off RP HPLC columns, please refer to this linked article found here.

How Can I Tell if the Sample Is Retained On the HPLC Column? or What Does It Mean When the Sample Comes Out At or Near the Column Void Volume?
  • Chromatography is a tool which when used properly adds one or more additional dimensions of physical or chemical characterization information to your analysis data. It does so first by using on-column RETENTION. Samples must be run under conditions which allow the material to interact with the chromatography support for a period of time. We define this time as the retention time. A sample which does not interact at all with the column support material will elute off the column early (and not be retained) at the "column void time" (or column dead time). We refer to this void time as the "T zero" time. When a sample elutes at or near the T zero time, no chromatography has taken place and no method has been developed. It is as if the HPLC column was not used. How do you know what the "T zero" time is (it will be different for different methods)? You must first calculate the HPLC column's dead volume. Once you know the column dead volume and flow rate, you can calculate the T zero time. A scientifically valid HPLC method will include conditions which retain the sample on the column for a long enough period of time to insure that it is interacting with the support. This allows for separation from other compounds to take place and is the purpose of chromatographic resolution. Without this retention mechanism, you are just flow-injecting the sample past the column and skipping all chromatography. It would be far simpler to just place the sample in a spectrophotomer cell as no retention or additional data would be obtained using that technique.
  • When first learning liquid chromatography, two of the very first calculations you must learn to use in HPLC are: Column Dead Volume (aka: Column Void Volume) and the K prime of a sample (aka: Peak Capacity Factor). Do you know how to calculate these? They are calculated and reported for each method used. You should be able to tell anyone who asks you what the values are for each method. A chromatographer must know and understand them before using an HPLC system or running a method. They are also critical to method specificity and proper validation. Here are links which after reading and practicing, should make you an expert in these two fundamental calculations. 

So, how did you do answering these basic questions? If you have put in the needed study time and practical experience to learn and use these fundamentals of high-performance liquid chromatography, then you should have been able to easily provide correct answers to all three questions. If not, then it is time to go back and study up on those basic liquid chromatography texts and article links, plus get more supervised hands-on time with the instruments.