Metabolic insights from mass spectrometry imaging of biofilms: A perspective from model microorganisms

Dharmeshkumar Parmar, Joenisse M. Rosado-Rosa, Joshua D. Shrout, Jonathan V. Sweedler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biofilms are dense aggregates of bacterial colonies embedded inside a self-produced polymeric matrix. Biofilms have received increasing attention in medical, industrial, and environmental settings due to their enhanced survival. Their characterization using microscopy techniques has revealed the presence of structural and cellular heterogeneity in many bacterial systems. However, these techniques provide limited chemical detail and lack information about the molecules important for bacterial communication and virulence. Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) bridges the gap by generating spatial chemical information with unmatched chemical detail, making it an irreplaceable analytical platform in the multi-modal imaging of biofilms. In the last two decades, over 30 species of biofilm-forming bacteria have been studied using MSI in different environments. The literature conveys both analytical advancements and an improved understanding of the effects of environmental variables such as host surface characteristics, antibiotics, and other species of microorganisms on biofilms. This review summarizes the insights from frequently studied model microorganisms. We share a detailed list of organism-wide metabolites, commonly observed mass spectral adducts, culture conditions, strains of bacteria, substrate, broad problem definition, and details of the MS instrumentation, such as ionization sources and matrix, to facilitate future studies. We also compared the spatial characteristics of the secretome under different study designs to highlight changes because of various environmental influences. In addition, we highlight the current limitations of MSI in relation to biofilm characterization to enable cross-comparison between experiments. Overall, MSI has emerged to become an important approach for the spatial/chemical characterization of bacterial biofilms and its use will continue to grow as MSI becomes more accessible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-34
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Biofilm imaging
  • Mass spectrometry imaging
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Staphylococcus aureus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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