Cellular resolution in clinical MALDI mass spectrometry imaging: The latest advancements and current challenges

Klára Ščupáková, Benjamin Balluff, Caitlin Tressler, Tobi Adelaja, Ron M.A. Heeren, Kristine Glunde, Gökhan Ertaylan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Mass spectrometry (MS) is the workhorse of metabolomics, proteomics and lipidomics. Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI), its extension to spatially resolved analysis of tissues, is a powerful tool for visualizing molecular information within the histological context of tissue. This review summarizes recent developments in MSI and highlights current challenges that remain to achieve molecular imaging at the cellular level of clinical specimens. We focus on matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI)-MSI. We discuss the current status of each of the analysis steps and remaining challenges to reach the desired level of cellular imaging. Currently, analyte delocalization and degradation, matrix crystal size, laser focus restrictions and detector sensitivity are factors that are limiting spatial resolution. New sample preparation devices and laser optic systems are being developed to push the boundaries of these limitations. Furthermore, we review the processing of cellular MSI data and images, and the systematic integration of these data in the light of available algorithms and databases. We discuss roadblocks in the data analysis pipeline and show how technology from other fields can be used to overcome these. Finally, we conclude with curative and community efforts that are needed to enable contextualization of the information obtained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)914-929
Number of pages16
JournalClinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • data analysis
  • data integration and interpretation
  • histopathology
  • mass spectrometry imaging
  • molecular analysis
  • spatial resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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