Mass spectrometric imaging has been utilized to localize individual astrocytes and to obtain cholesterol populations at the single-cell level in laser desorption ionization (LDI) with colloidal silver. The silver ion adduct of membrane-bound cholesterol was monitored to detect individual cells. Good correlation between mass spectrometric and optical images at different cell densities indicates the ability to perform single-cell studies of cholesterol abundance. The feasibility of quantification is confirmed by the agreement between the LDI-MS ion signals and the results from a traditional enzymatic fluorometric assay. We propose that this approach could be an effective tool to study chemical populations at the cellular level. Published in 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.