Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) is one of the most successful “soft” ionization methods in the field of mass spectrometry and enables the analysis of a broad range of molecules, including lipids. Although the details of the ionization process are still unknown, the importance of the matrix is commonly accepted. Both, the development of and the search for useful matrices was, and still is, an empirical process, since properties like vacuum stability, high absorption at the laser wavelength, etc. have to be fulfilled by a compound to become a useful matrix. This review provides a survey of successfully used MALDI matrices for the lipid analyses of complex biological samples. The advantages and drawbacks of the established organic matrix molecules (cinnamic or benzoic acid derivatives), liquid crystalline matrices, and mixtures of common matrices will be discussed. Furthermore, we will deal with nanocrystalline matrices, which are most suitable to analyze small molecules, such as free fatty acids. It will be shown that the analysis of mixtures and the quantitative analysis of small molecules can be easily performed if the matrix is carefully selected. Finally, some basic principles of how useful matrix compounds can be “designed” de novo will be introduced.
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