Genetically Encoded Fluorescent Proteins Enable High-Throughput Assignment of Cell Cohorts Directly from MALDI-MS Images


Nicholas D Schmitt, Catherine M Rawlins, Elizabeth C Randall, Xianzhe Wang, Antonius Koller, Jared R. Auclair, Jane-Marie Kowalski, Paul J. Kowalski, Ed Luther, Alexander R Ivanov, Nathalie YR Agar, and Jeffrey N Agar. 2019. “Genetically Encoded Fluorescent Proteins Enable High-Throughput Assignment of Cell Cohorts Directly from MALDI-MS Images.” Anal Chem, 91, 6, Pp. 3810-7. Copy at


Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) provides a unique in situ chemical profile that can include drugs, nucleic acids, metabolites, lipids, and proteins. MSI of individual cells (of a known cell type) affords a unique insight into normal and disease-related processes and is a prerequisite for combining the results of MSI and other single-cell modalities (e.g. mass cytometry and next-generation sequencing). Technological barriers have prevented the high-throughput assignment of MSI spectra from solid tissue preparations to their cell type. These barriers include obtaining a suitable cell-identifying image (e.g. immunohistochemistry) and obtaining sufficiently accurate registration of the cell-identifying and MALDI-MS images. This study introduces a technique that overcame these barriers by assigning cell type directly from mass spectra. We hypothesized that, in MSI from mice with a defined fluorescent protein expression pattern, the fluorescent protein's molecular ion could be used to identify cell cohorts. A method was developed for the purification of enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (EYFP) from mice. To determine EYFP's molecular mass for MSI studies, we performed intact mass analysis and characterized the protein's primary structure and post-translational modifications through various techniques. MALDI-MSI methods were developed to enhance the detection of EYFP in situ, and by extraction of EYFP's molecular ion from MALDI-MS images, automated, whole-image assignment of cell cohorts was achieved. This method was validated using a well-characterized mouse line that expresses EYFP in motor and sensory neurons and should be applicable to hundreds of commercially available mice (and other animal) strains comprising a multitude of cell-specific fluorescent labels.
Last updated on 05/13/2019