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Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2011 Sep 15;25(17):2475-83. doi: 10.1002/rcm.5135.

Protein identification by accurate mass matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging of tryptic peptides.

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Institute of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Giessen, Germany.


The spatial distribution of proteins in tissue sections can be used to identify potential markers for pathological processes. Tissue sections are often subjected to enzymatic digestion before matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) imaging. This study is targeted at improving the on-tissue identification of tryptic peptides by accurate mass measurements and complementary off-line liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC/ESI-MS/MS) analysis. Two adjacent mouse brain sections were analyzed in parallel. The first section was spotted with trypsin and analyzed by MALDI imaging. Direct on-tissue MS/MS experiments of this section resulted in the identification of 14 peptides (originating from 4 proteins). The second tissue section was homogenized, fractionated by ultracentrifugation and digested with trypsin prior to LC/ESI-MS/MS analysis. The number of identified peptides was increased to 153 (corresponding to 106 proteins) by matching imaged mass peaks to peptides which were identified in these LC/ESI-MS/MS experiments. All results (including MALDI imaging data) were based on accurate mass measurements (RMS <2 ppm) and allow a confident identification of tryptic peptides. Measurements based on lower accuracy would have led to ambiguous or misleading results. MS images of identified peptides were generated with a bin width (mass range used for image generation) of Δm/z = 0.01. The application of accurate mass measurements and additional LC/MS measurements increased both the quality and the number of peptide identifications. The advantages of this approach for the analysis of biological tissue sections are demonstrated and discussed in detail. Results indicate that accurate mass measurements are needed for confident identification and specific image generation of tryptic peptides in tissue sections.

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