Single-cell mass spectrometry (MS) is a rapidly emerging field in metabolic investigations. The inherent chemical complexity of most biological samples poses analytical challenges when using MS platforms to measure sample content without prior chemical separation. Here, a single-cell capillary electrophoresis (CE) system was coupled with electrospray ionization (ESI) MS to enable the simultaneous measurement of a vast array of endogenous compounds in over 50 identified and isolated large neurons from the Aplysia californica central nervous system. More than 300 distinct ion signals (m/z values) were detected from a single neuron in the positive ion mode, 140 of which were selected for chemometric data analysis. Metabolic features were evaluated among six different neuron types (B1, B2, left pleural 1 (LPl1), metacerebral cell (MCC), R2, and R15) chosen for their various physiological functions. The results indicated chemical similarities among some neuron types (B1 to B2 and LPl1 to R2) and distinctive features for others (MCC and R15 cells). The quantitative nature of the MS platform allowed the comparison of metabolite levels for specific neurons. The CE-ESI-MS approach for examination of individual nanoliter-volume cells as described herein is readily adaptable to other volume-limited samples.
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