Single Cell Metabolomics

The metabolome is defined as the full complement of small-molecule metabolites found in a specific cell, organ, or organism. The most interesting potential application of single-cell metabolomics may be in the area of cancer. In other fields where single-cell metabolomics is expected to have an impact are systems biology, stem cell research, aging, and the development of drug resistance; more generally, it could be used to discover cells’ chemical strategies for coping with chemical or environmental stress. Relative to other single-cell “-omics” measurements, metabolomics provides a more immediate and dynamic picture of the functionality (i.e., of the phenotype) of a cell, but is arguably also the most difficult to measure. Single-cell analysis of metabolites by mass spectrometry (MS) is challenging due to the very limited volume and inherent molecular complexity of the sample. Quantitative metabolomic analysis of individual cells provides information on the metabolic heterogeneity of cells unattainable by aggregate analysis of multiple cells. Depending on the ionization method, MS can offer quantitative analysis for a broad class of metabolites exhibiting both high sensitivity and selectivity. Laser ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) has been successfully exploited to analyze metabolites from broad range of biological samples, including single cells and small cell populations.

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