Categorizing Cells on the Basis of their Chemical Profiles: Progress in Single-Cell Mass Spectrometry

Troy J. Comi, Thanh D. Do, Stanislav S. Rubakhin, Jonathan V. Sweedler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The chemical differences between individual cells within large cellular populations provide unique information on organisms’ homeostasis and the development of diseased states. Even genetically identical cell lineages diverge due to local microenvironments and stochastic processes. The minute sample volumes and low abundance of some constituents in cells hinder our understanding of cellular heterogeneity. Although amplification methods facilitate single-cell genomics and transcriptomics, the characterization of metabolites and proteins remains challenging both because of the lack of effective amplification approaches and the wide diversity in cellular constituents. Mass spectrometry has become an enabling technology for the investigation of individual cellular metabolite profiles with its exquisite sensitivity, large dynamic range, and ability to characterize hundreds to thousands of compounds. While advances in instrumentation have improved figures of merit, acquiring measurements at high throughput and sampling from large populations of cells are still not routine. In this Perspective, we highlight the current trends and progress in mass-spectrometry-based analysis of single cells, with a focus on the technologies that will enable the next generation of single-cell measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3920-3929
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 22 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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