Mass Spectrometry Imaging Technique Allows Fast Analysis of Metabolites in Fixed-Tissue Samples

A new mass spectrometry imaging protocol allows the analysis of metabolites like adenosine monophosphate from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue, shown here as background. (Credit: Helmholtz Zentrum München)

A new mass spectrometry imaging protocol allows the analysis of metabolites like adenosine monophosphate from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue, shown here as background. (Credit: Helmholtz Zentrum München)

The metabolic composition of tissues can be determined—in one day—in fixed-tissue samples, using a newly developed mass spectrometry imaging protocol.

Using relatively small amounts of material, researchers from the German Research Center for Environmental Health (Helmholtz Zentrum München) were able to make the metabolites visible in tissue sections. “Our method permits the analysis of minute biopsies and even tissue micro-arrays, making it particularly interesting for molecular research and diagnostics,” explained doctoral candidate Achim Buck, together with Alice Ly, first author of the study.

To ensure that the measured data was not falsified by the fixation process, the scientists compared it with the measured values for the same samples that were not fixed but were shock-frozen. “A large proportion of the measured metabolites occurred in both analyses,” reported Achim Buck. “We were able to show that the method works reliably and avoids the complex logistics and storage of shock-frozen samples.”

In addition to simple handling and high reproducibility, the possibility to conduct high-throughput work is a key advantage of the method. Above all, said the researchers, it is now possible to study the spatial distribution of molecules in the tissue graphically and with great precision—a huge advantage in research and in clinical diagnostic practice. Prof. Axel Kari Walch, team leader, said, “Using our new analytical method, our aim is now to identify new predictive, diagnostic and prognostic markers in tissues, as well as to understand disease processes.”