Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization in-source decay (MALDI-ISD) is initiated by hydrogen transfer from matrix molecules to the carbonyl oxygen of peptide backbone with subsequent radical-induced cleavage leading to c′/z• fragments pair. MALDI-ISD is a very powerful method to obtain long sequence tags from proteins or to do de novo sequencing of peptides. Besides classical fragmentation, MALDI-ISD also shows specific fragments for which the mechanism of formation enlightened the MALDI-ISD process. In this study, the MALDI-ISD mechanism is reviewed, and a specific mechanism is studied in details: the N-terminal side of Cys residue (Xxx-Cys) is described to promote the generation of c′ and w fragments in MALDI-ISD. Our data suggest that for sequences containing Xxx-Cys motifs, the N–Cα bond cleavage occurs following the hydrogen attachment to the thiol group of Cys side-chain. The c•/w fragments pair is formed by side-chain loss of the Cys residue with subsequent radical-induced cleavage at the N–Cα bond located at the left side (N-terminal direction) of the Cys residue. This fragmentation pathway preferentially occurs at free Cys residue and is suppressed when the cysteines are involved in disulfide bonds. Hydrogen attachment to alkylated Cys residues using iodoacetamide gives free Cys residue by the loss of •CH2CONH2 radical. The presence of alkylated Cys residue also suppress the formation of c•/w fragments pair via the (Cβ)-centered radical, whereas w fragment is still observed as intense signal. In this case, the z• fragment formed by hydrogen attachment of carbonyl oxygen followed side-chain loss at alkylated Cys leads to a w fragment. Hydrogen attachment on peptide backbone and side-chain of Cys residue occurs therefore competitively during MALDI-ISD process. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.