Massive glycerol cluster ions with many charges (~ 106 Da, ~ ±100 charges) have been generated by electrospray to bombard biomolecules and biological sample surfaces. The low impact energy per nucleon facilitates intact sputtering and ionization of biomolecules which can be subsequently imaged. Various lipids, peptides and proteins have been studied. The primary cluster ion source has been coupled with an ion-microscope imaging mass spectrometer (TRIFT-1, Physical Electronics). A lateral resolution of ~3µm has been demonstrated, which is acceptable for sub-cellular imaging of animal cells (e.g. single cancer cell imaging in early diagnosis). Since the available amount of target molecules per pixel is limited in biological samples, the measurement of useful ion yields (ratio of detected molecular ion counts to the sample molecules sputtered) is important to determine whether enough ion counts per pixel can be obtained. The useful ion yields of several lipids and peptides are in the 1-3×10-5 range. A 3×3 µm2lipid bilayer can produce ~260 counts/pixel for a meaningful 3×3 µm2 pixel ion image. This method can probably be used in cell imaging in the future, when there is a change in the lipid contents of the cell membrane (e.g. cancer cells vs. normal cells).
- Imaging mass spectrometry of biomolecules using massive cluster impact