Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) is a technique for obtaining information on the distribution of various molecules by performing mass spectrometry directly on the sample surface. The applications range from small molecules such as lipids to large molecules such as proteins. It is also possible to detect pharmaceuticals and elemental isotopes in interstellar matter. This review will introduce various applications of MSI with examples.
Paeoniflorin and albiflorin, which are functional isomers, are the major constituents of an herbal medicine derived from Paeonia lactiflora. Those functional isomers and their galloylated derivatives, which are positional isomers, were studied by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization–tandem mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS/MS). The resulting mass spectra are discussed based on the fragmentation patterns of the sodium adducts. The product ion spectra of 4-O-galloylalbiflorin and 4′-O-galloylpaeoniflorin differed, even though they were positional isomers. The fragmentations of the ester parts were influenced by the neighboring hydroxyl groups. The ionization efficiency of the sodium adduct of albiflorin was higher than that for paeoniflorin. These results indicate that the carboxylic ester group has a higher affinity for sodium ions than the acetal group, which can be attributed to the carbonyl oxygen being negatively polarized, allowing it to function as a Lewis base.
Electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry of transferrin can be used to diagnose congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDG) by detecting abnormal N-glycosylation due to reduced site occupancy or processing failure. Time-of-flight mass spectrometers are widely used to separate 25–45 charged ions in the m/z 1,700–3,000 range, and a summed zero-charge mass distribution is generated despite the risk of improper deconvolution. In this study, the low m/z region of the multiply-charged ion mass spectrum enabled a robust analysis of CDG. A triple quadrupole mass spectrometer, the standard instrument for newborn screening for inborn errors of metabolism, permitted the identification of the key ions characteristic of different types of CDG affecting PMM2, ALG14, SLC35A1, SLC35A2, MAN1B1 and PGM1 in the m/z 1,970–2,000 region. Charge deconvolution was used as a complementary tool for validating the findings. It was necessary to set a cutoff level for the evaluation, since small peaks indicating glycosylation failure or reduced sialylation were observed, even in control subjects. This method and workflow facilitates the implementation of MS-based analyses and the screening of CDG in clinical laboratories.