In an effort to gain an understanding of the processes governing ultraviolet matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (UV-MALDI), direct comparison was made of the mass spectra of proteins, carbohydrates and synthetic polymers (polyethylene glycol, polyester and polyamide) by using pyridylindoles, pyridoindoles and pyridylpyridoindoles as UV (337 nm)-MALDI-TOFMS matrices in positive and negative ion mode. In order to study the combined effect of the indole N-H and the pyridine nitrogen of the MALDI matrix on the desorption/ionization process in MALDI, compounds were selected that include either or both of these functions in their structure. Within the compounds studied only those that possess simultaneously both functions in a 1,4-relation behave as very good matrices for proteins. These compounds also work as matrices for some carbohydrates and synthetic polymers used as analytes in the present study. Some of the compounds were also found to be useful for the post-source decay (PSD) analysis of cyclodextrins in positive and negative ion mode. In several cases we also examined the matrix behavior of the corresponding N-methylindole derivatives. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.