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Anal Chem. 2008 Mar 15;80(6):2026-34. doi: 10.1021/ac701822j. Epub 2008 Feb 22.

MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry compatible inactivation method for highly pathogenic microbial cells and spores.

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P25, ZBS2, and ZBS4, Robert Koch-Institut, Nordufer 20, 13353 Berlin, Germany.


Identification of microorganisms, specifically of vegetative cells and spores, by intact cell mass spectrometry (ICMS) is an emerging new technology. The technique provides specific biomarker profiles which can be employed for bacterial identification at the genus, species, or even at the subspecies level holding the potential to serve as a rapid and sensitive identification technique in clinical or food microbiology and also for sensitive detection of biosafety level (BSL) 3 microorganisms. However, the development of ICMS as an identification technique for BSL-3 level microorganisms is hampered by the fact that no MALDI-TOF (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight) compatible inactivation procedure for microorganisms, and particularly for bacterial endospores, has been evaluated so far. In this report we describe a new methodology for effective inactivation of microorganisms which is compatible with the analysis of microbial protein patterns by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. The main challenge of this work was to define the conditions that ensure microbial inactivation and permit at the same time comprehensive analysis of microbial protein patterns. Among several physical, chemical, and mechanical inactivation procedures, inactivation by trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) proved to be the best method in terms of bactericidal capacity and information content of the mass spectra. Treatment of vegetative cells by 80% TFA alone for 30 min assured complete inactivation of microbial cells under all conditions tested. For spore inactivation, the "TFA inactivation protocol" was developed which is a combination of TFA treatment with basic laboratory routines such as centrifugation and filtering. This MALDI-TOF/ICMS compatible sample preparation protocol is simple and rapid (30 min) and assures reliable inactivation of vegetative cells and spores of highly pathogenic (BSL-3) microorganisms.

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