Integrated use of LC/MS/MS and LC/Q-TOF/MS targeted metabolomics with automated label-free microscopy for quantification of purine metabolites in cultured mammalian cells


Purine metabolites have been implicated as clinically relevant biomarkers of worsening or improving Parkinson’s disease (PD) progression. However, the identification of purine molecules as biomarkers in PD has largely been determined using non-targeted metabolomics analysis. The primary goal of this study was to develop an economical targeted metabolomics approach for the routine detection of purine molecules in biological samples. Specifically, this project utilized LC/MS/MS and LC/QTOF/MS to accurately quantify levels of six purine molecules in samples from cultured N2a murine neuroblastoma cells. The targeted metabolomics workflow was integrated with automated label-free digital microscopy, which enabled normalization of purine concentration per unit cell in the absence of fluorescent dyes. The established method offered significantly enhanced selectivity compared to previously published procedures. In addition, this study demonstrates that a simple, quantitative targeted metabolomics approach can be developed to identify and quantify purine metabolites in biological samples. We envision that this method could be broadly applicable to quantification of purine metabolites from other complex biological samples, such as cerebrospinal fluid or blood.

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Adenosine diphosphate


Adenosine monophosphate


Analysis of variance


Adenosine triphosphate


Central nervous system


Cerebrospinal fluid


Direct-infusion electrospray ionization mass spectrometry


Detection limit


Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium


Electrospray ionization


Fetal bovine serum




Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry


High-resolution mass spectrometry


International Conference on Harmonization


Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry


Liquid chromatography-quadrupole-time-of-flight-mass spectrometry




Lower limit of detection


Multiple reaction monitoring




Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate


Nuclear magnetic resonance


Ectonucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase


Parkinson’s disease


Quantification limit


Quadrupole-time-of-flight-mass spectrometry


Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale


Ultra performance liquid chromatography


Ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy


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LC/MS/MS targeted metabolomics experiments were performed at the Michigan State University Mass Spectrometry and Metabolomics Core Facility headed by Professor Dr. Dan Jones. The authors thank Dr. Anthony Schilmiller and Mrs. Lijun Chen for their help in conducting mass spectrometry analysis.


This study was funded by a Ferris State University Exceptional Merit Grant to S.E.N. and an American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy New Investigator Award to J.T.L.

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All authors contributed to all aspects of experimentation and manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Jennifer T. Lamberts.

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S. Eric Nybo declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Jennifer T. Lamberts declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Nybo, S.E., Lamberts, J.T. Integrated use of LC/MS/MS and LC/Q-TOF/MS targeted metabolomics with automated label-free microscopy for quantification of purine metabolites in cultured mammalian cells. Purinergic Signalling 15, 17–25 (2019).

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  • Purine
  • Label-free microscopy
  • Cell culture
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Metabolomics