Capturing small molecule communication between tissues and cells using imaging mass spectrometry

Katherine E. Zink, Matthew Dean, Joanna E. Burdette, Laura M. Sanchez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) has routinely been applied to three types of samples: tissue sections, spheroids, and microbial colonies. These sample types have been analyzed using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) to visualize the distribution of proteins, lipids, and metabolites across the biological sample of interest. We have developed a novel sample preparation method that combines the strengths of the three previous applications to address an underexplored approach for identifying chemical communication in cancer, by seeding mammalian cell cultures into agarose in coculture with healthy tissues followed by desiccation of the sample. Mammalian tissue and cells are cocultured in close proximity allowing chemical communication via diffusion between the tissue and cells. At specific time points, the agarose-based sample is dried in the same manner as microbial colonies prepared for IMS analysis. Our method was developed to model the communication between high grade serous ovarian cancer derived from the fallopian tube as it interacts with the ovary during metastasis. Optimization of the sample preparation resulted in the identification of norepinephrine as a key chemical component in the ovarian microenvironment. This newly developed method can be applied to other biological systems that require an understanding of chemical communication between adjacent cells or tissues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere59490
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number146
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • 3D cell culture
  • Cancer Research
  • Cells
  • Coculture
  • Imaging mass spectrometry
  • Issue 146
  • Metabolomics
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Tissue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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