Microscopic imaging mass spectrometry assisted by on-tissue chemical derivatization for visualizing multiple amino acids in human colon cancer xenografts


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Imaging MS combined with CE/MS serves as a method to provide semi-quantitative and spatial information of small molecular metabolites in tissue slices. However, not all metabolites including amino acids have fully been visualized, because of low-ionization efficiency in MALDI MS. This study aimed to acquire semi-quantitative spatial information for multiple amino acids in frozen tissue slices. As a derivatization reagent, p-N,N,N-trimethylammonioanilyl N′-hydroxysuccinimidyl carbamate iodide (TAHS) was applied to increase their ionization efficiency and detection sensitivity. Semi-quantitative MALDI-imaging MS allowed us to visualize and quantify free amino acid pools in human colon cancer xenografts using a model of liver metastases in super-immunodeficient NOD/scid/γnull mice (NOG mice). Because the m/z values of several TAHS-derivatized amino acids overlap with those of the 2,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid background and other endogenous compounds, we imaged them with tandem MS. The results indicated that regional contents of glutamate, glutamine, glycine, leucine/isoleucine/hydroxyproline, phenylalanine, and alanine were significantly elevated in metastatic tumors versus parenchyma of tumor-bearing livers. On-tissue TAHS derivatization thus serves as a useful method to detect alterations in many amino acid levels in vivo, thereby enabling understanding of the spatial alterations of these metabolites under varied disease conditions including cancer.