A versatile quantitative microdroplet elemental imaging method optimised for integration in biochemical workflows for low-volume samples

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Journal Article
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 2019, 411 (3), pp. 603 - 616
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© 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) analysis of μ-droplets is becoming an attractive alternative for detecting and quantifying elements in biological samples. With minimal sample preparation required and detection limits comparable to solution nebulisation ICP-MS, μ-droplets have substantial advantages over traditional elemental detection, particularly for low volumes, such as aliquots taken from samples required for multiple independent biochemical assays, or fluids and tissues where elements of interest exist at native concentrations not suited to the necessary dilution steps required for solution nebulisation ICP-MS. However, the characteristics of μ-droplet residue deposition are heavily dependent on the matrix, and potential effects on signal suppression or enhancement have not been fully characterised. We present a validated and flexible high-throughput method for quantification of elements in μ-droplets using LA-ICP-MS imaging and matrix-matched external calibrants. Imaging the entire μ-droplet area removes analytical uncertainty arising from the often-heterogenous distribution when compared to radial or bisecting line scans that capture only a small portion of the droplet residue. We examined the effects of common matrices found in a standard biochemistry workflow, including native protein and salt contents, as well as reagents used in typical preparation steps for concurrent biochemical assays, such as total protein quantification and enzyme activity assays. We found that matrix composition results in systemic, concentration-dependent signal enhancement and suppression for carbon, whereas high sodium content has a specific space-charge-like suppression effect on high masses. We confirmed the accuracy of our method using both a certified serum standard (Seronorm™ L1) and independent measurements of analysed samples by solution nebulisation ICP-MS, then tested the specificity and reproducibility by examining spinal cord tissue homogenates from SOD1-G93A transgenic mice with a known molecular phenotype of increased copper- and zinc-binding superoxide dismutase-1 expression and altered copper-to-zinc stoichiometry. The method presented is rapid and transferable to multiple other biological matrices and allows high-throughput analysis of low-volume samples with sensitivity comparable to standard solution nebulisation ICP-MS protocols. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]
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