Simultaneous imaging of multiple neurotransmitters and neuroactive substances in the brain by desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry

Neuroimage. 2016 Aug 1;136:129-38. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.05.004. Epub 2016 May 4.


With neurological processes involving multiple neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, it is important to have the ability to directly map and quantify multiple signaling molecules simultaneously in a single analysis. By utilizing a molecular-specific approach, namely desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging (DESI-MSI), we demonstrated that the technique can be used to image multiple neurotransmitters and their metabolites (dopamine, dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, 3-methoxytyramine, serotonin, glutamate, glutamine, aspartate, γ-aminobutyric acid, adenosine) as well as neuroactive drugs (amphetamine, sibutramine, fluvoxamine) and drug metabolites in situ directly in brain tissue sections. The use of both positive and negative ionization modes increased the number of identified molecular targets. Chemical derivatization by charge-tagging the primary amines of molecules significantly increased the sensitivity, enabling the detection of low abundant neurotransmitters and other neuroactive substances previously undetectable by MSI. The sensitivity of the imaging approach of neurochemicals has a great potential in many diverse applications in fields such as neuroscience, pharmacology, drug discovery, neurochemistry, and medicine.

Keywords: Dopamine; Imaging; Mass spectrometry; Neurotransmitter; Parkinson's disease; Serotonin.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs