Spatially resolved chemical analysis of cicada wings using laser-ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS)


Laser-ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) is an emerging bioanalytical tool for direct imaging and analysis of biological tissues. Performing ionization in an ambient environment, this technique requires little sample preparation and no additional matrix, and can be performed on natural, uneven surfaces. When combined with optical microscopy, the investigation of biological samples by LAESI allows for spatially resolved compositional analysis. We demonstrate here the applicability of LAESI-IMS for the chemical analysis of thin, desiccated biological samples, specifically Neotibicen pruinosus cicada wings. Positive-ion LAESI-IMS accurate ion-map data was acquired from several wing cells and superimposed onto optical images allowing for compositional comparisons across areas of the wing. Various putative chemical identifications were made indicating the presence of hydrocarbons, lipids/esters, amines/amides, and sulfonated/phosphorylated compounds. With the spatial resolution capability, surprising chemical distribution patterns were observed across the cicada wing, which may assist in correlating trends in surface properties with chemical distribution. Observed ions were either (1) equally dispersed across the wing, (2) more concentrated closer to the body of the insect (proximal end), or (3) more concentrated toward the tip of the wing (distal end). These findings demonstrate LAESI-IMS as a tool for the acquisition of spatially resolved chemical information from fragile, dried insect wings. This LAESI-IMS technique has important implications for the study of functional biomaterials, where understanding the correlation between chemical composition, physical structure, and biological function is critical.

Positive-ion laser-ablation electrospray ionization mass spectrometry coupled with optical imaging provides a powerful tool for the spatially resolved chemical analysis of cicada wings

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Scanning electron microscopy was carried out at the Beckman Institute, University of Illinois.


Funding was provided through the U.S. Army Basic Research Program, supporting the University of Illinois collaborators (N.M. and M.A.) through U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, CESU W9132T-16-2-0011. N.M. gratefully acknowledges funding support from the National Science Foundation under Award No. 1554249 and the International Institute for Carbon Neutral Energy Research (WPI-I2CNER), sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

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Correspondence to Marianne Alleyne or Nenad Miljkovic or Donald M. Cropek.

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Román, J.K., Walsh, C.M., Oh, J. et al. Spatially resolved chemical analysis of cicada wings using laser-ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS). Anal Bioanal Chem 410, 1911–1921 (2018).

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  • Laser-ablation electrospray ionization
  • Imaging
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Cicada wings
  • Spatial resolution
  • Insect hydrocarbons