The multistage mass spectrometric (MS/MS and MS3) gas-phase fragmentation reactions of methionine side-chain sulfonium ion containing peptides formed by reaction with a series of para-substituted phenacyl bromide (XBr where X = CH2COC6H4R, and R = COOH, COOCH3, H, CH3 and CH2CH3) alkylating reagents have been examined in a linear quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer. MS/MS of the singly (M+) and multiply ([M++nH](n+1)+) charged precursor ions results in exclusive dissociation at the fixed charge containing side chain, independently of the amino acid composition and precursor ion charge state (i.e., proton mobility). However, loss of the methylphenacyl sulfide side-chain fragment as a neutral versus charged (protonated) species was observed to be highly dependent on the proton mobility of the precursor ion, and the identity of the phenacyl group para-substituent. Molecular orbital calculations were performed at the B3LYP/6-31+G** level of theory to calculate the theoretical proton affinities of the neutral side-chain fragments. The log of the ratio of neutral versus protonated side-chain fragment losses from the derivatized side chain were found to exhibit a linear dependence on the proton affinity of the side-chain fragmentation product, as well as the proton affinities of the peptide product ions. Finally, MS3 dissociation of the nominally identical neutral and protonated loss product ions formed by MS/MS of the [M++H]2+ and [M++2H]3+ precursor ions, respectively, from the peptide GAILM(X)GAILK revealed significant differences in the abundances of the resultant product ions. These results suggest that the protonated peptide product ions formed by gas-phase fragmentation of sulfonium ion containing precursors in an ion trap mass spectrometer do not necessarily undergo intramolecular proton ‘scrambling’ prior to their further dissociation, in contrast to that previously demonstrated for peptide ions introduced by external ionization sources. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.