Imaging mass spectrometry at cellular length scales
Imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) allows the direct investigation of both the identity and the spatial distribution of the molecular content directly in tissue sections, single cells and many other biological surfaces. In this protocol, we present the steps required to retrieve the molecular information from tissue sections using matrix-enhanced (ME) and metal-assisted (MetA) secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) as well as matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) IMS. These techniques require specific sample preparation steps directed at optimal signal intensity with minimal redistribution or modification of the sample analytes. After careful sample preparation, different IMS methods offer a unique discovery tool in, for example, the investigation of (i) drug transport and uptake, (ii) biological processing steps and (iii) biomarker distributions. To extract the relevant information from the huge datasets produced by IMS, new bioinformatics approaches have been developed. The duration of the protocol is highly dependent on sample size and technique used, but on average takes approximately 5 h.