MALDI tissue imaging: from biomarker discovery to clinical applications

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2011 Jul;401(1):17-27. doi: 10.1007/s00216-011-5003-6. Epub 2011 May 4.


Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) is a powerful tool for the generation of multidimensional spatial expression maps of biomolecules directly from a tissue section. From a clinical proteomics perspective, this method correlates molecular detail to histopathological changes found in patient-derived tissues, enhancing the ability to identify candidates for disease biomarkers. The unbiased analysis and spatial mapping of a variety of molecules directly from clinical tissue sections can be achieved through this method. Conversely, targeted IMS, by the incorporation of laser-reactive molecular tags onto antibodies, aptamers, and other affinity molecules, enables analysis of specific molecules or a class of molecules. In addition to exploring tissue during biomarker discovery, the integration of MALDI-IMS methods into existing clinical pathology laboratory practices could prove beneficial to diagnostics. Querying tissue for the expression of specific biomarkers in a biopsy is a critical component in clinical decision-making and such markers are a major goal of translational research. An important challenge in cancer diagnostics will be to assay multiple parameters in a single slide when tissue quantities are limited. The development of multiplexed assays that maximize the yield of information from a small biopsy will help meet a critical challenge to current biomarker research. This review focuses on the use of MALDI-IMS in biomarker discovery and its potential as a clinical diagnostic tool with specific reference to our application of this technology to prostate cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / trends
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / trends


  • Biomarkers, Tumor