Metabolites are involved in a diverse range of intracellular processes, including a cell's response to a changing extracellular environment. Using single-cell capillary electrophoresis coupled to electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, we investigated how placing individual identified neurons in culture affects their metabolic profile. First, glycerol-based cell stabilization was evaluated using metacerebral neurons from Aplysia californica; the measurement error was reduced from ∼24% relative standard deviation to ∼6% for glycerol-stabilized cells compared to those isolated without glycerol stabilization. In order to determine the changes induced by culturing, 14 freshly isolated and 11 overnight-cultured neurons of two metabolically distinct cell types from A. californica, the B1 and B2 buccal neurons, were characterized. Of the more than 300 distinctive cell-related signals detected, 35 compounds were selected for their known biological roles and compared among each measured cell. Unsupervised multivariate and statistical analysis revealed robust metabolic differences between these two identified neuron types. We then compared the changes induced by overnight culturing; metabolite concentrations were distinct for 26 compounds in the cultured B1 cells. In contrast, culturing had less influence on the metabolic profile of the B2 neurons, with only five compounds changing significantly. As a result of these culturing-induced changes, the metabolic composition of the B1 neurons became indistinguishable from the cultured B2 cells. This observation suggests that the two cell types differentially regulate their in vivo or in vitro metabolomes in response to a changing environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)782-792
Number of pages11
JournalACS Chemical Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 17 2012


  • Aplysia californica
  • capillary electrophoresis mass spectrometry
  • metabolome
  • Neuron culture
  • neurotransmitter
  • single-cell analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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