An introduction to mass cytometry: fundamentals and applications

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2013 May;62(5):955-65. doi: 10.1007/s00262-013-1416-8. Epub 2013 Apr 7.


Mass cytometry addresses the analytical challenges of polychromatic flow cytometry by using metal atoms as tags rather than fluorophores and atomic mass spectrometry as the detector rather than photon optics. The many available enriched stable isotopes of the transition elements can provide up to 100 distinguishable reporting tags, which can be measured simultaneously because of the essential independence of detection provided by the mass spectrometer. We discuss the adaptation of traditional inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to cytometry applications. We focus on the generation of cytometry-compatible data and on approaches to unsupervised multivariate clustering analysis. Finally, we provide a high-level review of some recent benchmark reports that highlight the potential for massively multi-parameter mass cytometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Separation / methods
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Equipment Design
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Hematopoiesis
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Isotopes / chemistry
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Metals
  • Molecular Weight
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Isotopes
  • Metals