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Anal Chem. 2006 Jun 1;78(11):3651-8.

Chemical and biological differentiation of three human breast cancer cell types using time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry.

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  • 1Biosciences Directorate and Chemistry and Material Sciences Directorate, P.O. Box 808, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94551, USA.


We use time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) to image and classify individual cells on the basis of their characteristic mass spectra. Using statistical data reduction on the large data sets generated during TOF-SIMS analysis, similar biological materials can be differentiated on the basis of a combination of small changes in protein expression, metabolic activity and cell structure. We apply this powerful technique to image and differentiate three carcinoma-derived human breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7, T47D, and MDA-MB-231). In homogenized cells, we show the ability to differentiate the cell types as well as cellular compartments (cytosol, nuclear, and membrane). These studies illustrate the capacity of TOF-SIMS to characterize individual cells by chemical composition, which could ultimately be applied to detect and identify single aberrant cells within a normal cell population. Ultimately, we anticipate characterizing rare chemical changes that may provide clues to single cell progression within carcinogenic and metastatic pathways.

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