Spatial Metabolomics of the Human Kidney Using MALDI Trapped Ion Mobility Imaging Mass Spectrometry

Small metabolites are essential for normal and diseased biological function but are difficult to study because of their inherent structural complexity. MALDI imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) of small metabolites is particularly challenging as MALDI matrix clusters are often isobaric with metabolite ions, requiring high resolving power instrumentation or derivatization to circumvent this issue. An alternative to this is to perform ion mobility separation before ion detection, enabling the visualization of metabolites without the interference of matrix ions. Here, we use MALDI timsTOF IMS to image small metabolites at high spatial resolution within the human kidney. Through this, we have found metabolites, such as arginic acid, acetylcarnitine, and choline that localize to the cortex, medulla, and renal pelvis, respectively. We have also demonstrated that trapped ion mobility spectrometry (TIMS) can resolve matrix peaks from metabolite signal and separate both isobaric and isomeric metabolites with different localizations within the kidney. The added ion mobility data dimension dramatically increased the peak capacity for molecular imaging experiments. Future work will involve further exploring the small metabolite profiles of human kidneys as a function of age, gender, and ethnicity.