ToF-SIMS depth profiling of cells: z-correction, 3D imaging, and sputter rate of individual NIH/3T3 fibroblasts

Anal Chem. 2012 Jun 5;84(11):4880-5. doi: 10.1021/ac300480g. Epub 2012 May 11.


Proper display of three-dimensional time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) imaging data of complex, nonflat samples requires a correction of the data in the z-direction. Inaccuracies in displaying three-dimensional ToF-SIMS data arise from projecting data from a nonflat surface onto a 2D image plane, as well as possible variations in the sputter rate of the sample being probed. The current study builds on previous studies by creating software written in Matlab, the ZCorrectorGUI (available at, to apply the z-correction to entire 3D data sets. Three-dimensional image data sets were acquired from NIH/3T3 fibroblasts by collecting ToF-SIMS images, using a dual beam approach (25 keV Bi(3)(+) for analysis cycles and 20 keV C(60)(2+) for sputter cycles). The entire data cube was then corrected by using the new ZCorrectorGUI software, producing accurate chemical information from single cells in 3D. For the first time, a three-dimensional corrected view of a lipid-rich subcellular region, possibly the nuclear membrane, is presented. Additionally, the key assumption of a constant sputter rate throughout the data acquisition was tested by using ToF-SIMS and atomic force microscopy (AFM) analysis of the same cells. For the dried NIH/3T3 fibroblasts examined in this study, the sputter rate was found to not change appreciably in x, y, or z, and the cellular material was sputtered at a rate of approximately 10 nm per 1.25 × 10(13) ions C(60)(2+)/cm(2).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Shape
  • Cell Size
  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde
  • Freeze Drying
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Software*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Secondary Ion


  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde