An Automated Nanowell-Array Workflow for Quantitative Multiplexed Single-Cell Proteomics Sample Preparation at High Sensitivity

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2023 Oct 14;22(12):100665. doi: 10.1016/j.mcpro.2023.100665. Online ahead of print.


Multiplexed and label-free mass spectrometry-based approaches with single-cell resolution have attributed surprising heterogeneity to presumed homogenous cell populations. Even though specialized experimental designs and instrumentation have demonstrated remarkable advances, the efficient sample preparation of single cells still lags. Here, we introduce the proteoCHIP, a universal option for single-cell proteomics sample preparation including multiplexed labeling up to 16-plex with high sensitivity and throughput. The automated processing using a commercial system combining single-cell isolation and picoliter dispensing, the cellenONE, reduces final sample volumes to low nanoliters submerged in a hexadecane layer simultaneously eliminating error-prone manual sample handling and overcoming evaporation. The specialized proteoCHIP design allows direct injection of single cells via a standard autosampler resulting in around 1500 protein groups per TMT10-plex with reduced or eliminated need for a carrier proteome. We evaluated the effect of wider precursor isolation windows at single-cell input levels and found that using 2 Da isolation windows increased overall sensitivity without significantly impacting interference. Using the dedicated mass spectrometry acquisition strategies detailed here, we identified on average close to 2000 proteins per TMT10-plex across 170 multiplexed single cells that readily distinguished human cell types. Overall, our workflow combines highly efficient sample preparation, chromatographic and ion mobility-based filtering, rapid wide-window data-dependent acquisition analysis, and intelligent data analysis for optimal multiplexed single-cell proteomics. This versatile and automated proteoCHIP-based sample preparation approach is sufficiently sensitive to drive biological applications of single-cell proteomics and can be readily adopted by proteomics laboratories.

Keywords: automated sample preparation; high field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry; isobaric peptide labeling; proteoCHIP; single-cell proteomics.