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Keywords:

  • MALDI TOF MS;
  • bacteria;
  • strain;
  • profiling;
  • fingerprinting

Abstract

Since the advent of the use of matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF MS) as a tool for microbial characterization, efforts to increase the taxonomic resolution of the approach have been made. The rapidity and efficacy of the approach have suggested applications in counter-bioterrorism, prevention of food contamination, and monitoring the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Strain-level resolution has been reported with diverse bacteria, using library-based and bioinformatics-enabled approaches. Three types of characterization at the strain level have been reported: strain categorization, strain differentiation, and strain identification. Efforts to enhance the library-based approach have involved sample pre-treatment and data reduction strategies. Bioinformatics approaches have leveraged the ever-increasing amount of publicly available genomic and proteomic data to attain strain-level characterization. Bioinformatics-enabled strategies have facilitated strain characterization via intact biomarker identification, bottom-up, and top-down approaches. Rigorous quantitative and advanced statistical analyses have fostered success at the strain level with both approaches. Library-based approaches can be limited by effects of sample preparation and culture conditions on reproducibility, whereas bioinformatics-enabled approaches are typically limited to bacteria, for which genetic and/or proteomic data are available. Biological molecules other than proteins produced in strain-specific manners, including lipids and lipopeptides, might represent other avenues by which strain-level resolution might be attained. Immunological and lectin-based chemistries have shown promise to enhance sensitivity and specificity. Whereas the limits of the taxonomic resolution of MALDI TOF MS profiling of bacteria appears bacterium-specific, recent data suggest that these limits might not yet have been reached. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., Mass Spec Rev 32:188–217, 2013