Quantitative Extraction and Mass Spectrometry Analysis at a Single-Cell Level

Quantitative live cell mass spectrometry analysis at a subcellular level requires the precisely controlled extraction of subpicoliter volumes of material from the cell, sensitive analysis of the extracted analytes, and their accurate quantification without prior separation. In this study, we demonstrate that localized electroosmotic extraction provides a direct path to addressing this challenge. Specifically, we demonstrate quantitative mass spectrometry analysis of biomolecules in picoliter volumes extracted from live cells. Electroosmotic extraction was performed using two electrodes and a finely pulled nanopipette with tip diameter of <1 μm containing a hydrophobic electrolyte compatible with mass spectrometry analysis. The electroosmotic drag was used to drive analytes out of the cell into the nanopipette. Analyte molecules extracted both from solutions and cell samples were analyzed using nanoelectrospray ionization (nanoESI) directly from the nanopipette into a mass spectrometer. More than 50 metabolites including sugars and flavonoids were detected in positive mode in 2−5 pL volumes of the cytoplasmic material extracted from Allium cepa. Quantification of the extracted glucose was performed using sequential extraction of a known volume of the aqueous solution containing glucose-d2 standard of known concentration. We found that the ratio of the signal of glucose to glucose-d2 increased linearly with glucose concentration. This observation indicates that the approach developed in this study enables quantitative analysis of small volumes of metabolites extracted from cells. Furthermore, we observed efficient separation of hydrophilic and hydrophobic analytes through partitioning into the aqueous and hydrophobic electrolyte phase, respectively, which provides additional important information on the molecular properties of extracted metabolites.