This study examines protein adsorption behavior and the effects of mobile phase modifiers in multimodal chromatographic systems. Chromatography results with a diverse protein library indicate that multimodal and ion exchange resins have markedly different protein binding behavior and selectivity. NMR results corroborate the stronger binding observed for the multimodal system and provide insight into the structural basis for the observed binding behavior. Protein-binding affinity and selectivity in multimodal and ion exchange systems are then examined using a variety of mobile phase modifiers. Arginine and guanidine are found to have dramatic effects on protein adsorption, yielding changes in selectivity in both chromatographic systems. While sodium caprylate leads to slightly weaker chromatographic retention for most proteins, certain proteins exhibit significant losses in retention in both systems. The presence of a competitive binding mechanism between the multimodal ligand and sodium caprylate for binding to ubiquitin is confirmed using STD NMR. Polyol mobile phase modifiers are shown to result in increased retention for weakly bound proteins and decreased retention for strongly bound proteins, indicating that the overall retention behavior is determined by a balance between changes in electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions. This work provides an improved understanding of protein adsorption and mobile phase modifier effects in multimodal chromatographic systems and sets the stage for future work to develop more selective protein separation systems. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012;109: 176–186. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.