Biomolecular imaging with a C60-SIMS/MALDI dual ion source hybrid mass spectrometer: instrumentation, matrix enhancement, and single cell analysis

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2014 Nov;25(11):1897-907. doi: 10.1007/s13361-014-0978-9. Epub 2014 Sep 3.


We describe a hybrid MALDI/C(60)-SIMS Q-TOF mass spectrometer and corresponding sample preparation protocols to image intact biomolecules and their fragments in mammalian spinal cord, individual invertebrate neurons, and cultured neuronal networks. A lateral spatial resolution of 10 μm was demonstrated, with further improvement feasible to 1 μm, sufficient to resolve cell outgrowth and interconnections in neuronal networks. The high mass resolution (>13,000 FWHM) and tandem mass spectrometry capability of this hybrid instrument enabled the confident identification of cellular metabolites. Sublimation of a suitable matrix, 2,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid, significantly enhanced the ion signal intensity for intact glycerophospholipid ions from mammalian nervous tissue, facilitating the acquisition of high-quality ion images for low-abundance biomolecules. These results illustrate that the combination of C60-SIMS and MALDI mass spectrometry offers particular benefits for studies that require the imaging of intact biomolecules with high spatial and mass resolution, such as investigations of single cells, subcellular organelles, and communities of cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aplysia / chemistry
  • Aplysia / cytology
  • Fullerenes
  • Male
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Nerve Net / chemistry
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods*
  • Spinal Cord / chemistry
  • Spinal Cord / cytology


  • Fullerenes
  • fullerene C60