Quantitative Measurements of Cell−Cell Signaling Peptides with Single-Cell MALDI MS

Cell-to-cell signaling peptides play important roles in neurotransmission, neuromodulation, and hormonal signaling. Significant progress has been achieved in qualitative investigations of signaling peptides in the nervous system using single cell matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry. However, quantitative information about signaling peptides is difficult to obtain with this approach because only small amounts of analytes are available for analysis. Here we describe several methods for quantitative microanalysis of peptides in individual Aplysia californica neurons and small pieces of tissue. Stable isotope labeling with d0- and d4-succinic anhydride and iTRAQ reagents has been successfully adopted for relative quantitation of nanoliter volume samples containing the Aplysia insulin Cβ peptide. Comparative analysis of the Cβ peptide release site, the upper labial nerve, and its synthesis location, the F- and C-clusters, shows that the release site possesses almost three times more of this compound. The method of standard addition permits absolute quantitation of the physiologically active neuropeptide cerebrin from small structures, including nerves and neuronal clusters, in the femtomole range with a limit of detection of 19 fmol. The simplicity of these methods and the commercial availability of the reagents allow quantitative measurements from a variety of small-volume biological samples.