Desorption electrospray ionization imaging mass spectrometry of lipids in rat spinal cord


Imaging mass spectrometry allows for the direct investigation of tissue samples to identify specific biological compounds and determine their spatial distributions. Desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) mass spectrometry has been used for the imaging and analysis of rat spinal cord cross sections. Glycerophospholipids and sphingolipids, as well as fatty acids, were detected in both the negative and positive ion modes and identified through tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) product ion scans using collision-induced dissociation and accurate mass measurements. Differences in the relative abundances of lipids and free fatty acids were present between white and gray matter areas in both the negative and positive ion modes. DESI-MS images of the corresponding ions allow the determination of their spatial distributions within a cross section of the rat spinal cord, by scanning the DESI probe across the entire sample surface. Glycerophospholipids and sphingolipids were mostly detected in the white matter, while the free fatty acids were present in the gray matter. These results show parallels with reported distributions of lipids in studies of rat brain. This suggests that the spatial intensity distribution reflects relative concentration differences of the lipid and fatty acid compounds in the spinal cord tissue. The “butterfly” shape of the gray matter in the spinal cord cross section was resolved in the corresponding ion images, indicating that a lateral resolution of better than 200 μm was achieved. The selected ion images of lipids are directly correlated with anatomic features on the spinal cord corresponding to the white and the gray matter.