This review paper describes a new technology, mass cytometry, that addresses applications typically run by flow cytometer analyzers, but extends the capability to highly multiparametric analysis. The detection technology is based on atomic mass spectrometry. It offers quantitation, specificity and dynamic range of mass spectrometry in a format that is familiar to flow cytometry practitioners. The mass cytometer does not require compensation, allowing the application of statistical techniques; this has been impossible given the constraints of fluorescence noise with traditional cytometry instruments. Instead of "colors" the mass cytometer "reads" the stable isotope tags attached to antibodies using metal-chelating labeling reagents. Because there are many available stable isotopes, and the mass spectrometer provides exquisite resolution between detection channels, many parameters can be measured as easily as one. For example, in a single tube the technique allows for the ready detection and characterization of the major cell subsets in blood or bone marrow. Here we describe mass cytometric immunophenotyping of human leukemia cell lines and leukemia patient samples, differential cell analysis of normal peripheral and umbilical cord blood; intracellular protein identification and metal-encoded bead arrays.
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