Nanospray Desorption Electrospray Ionization (nano-DESI) Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Drift Time-Separated Ions

Simultaneous spatial localization and structural characterization of molecules in complex biological samples currently represents an analytical challenge for mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) techniques. In this study, we describe a novel experimental platform, which substantially expands the capabilities and enhances the depth of chemical information obtained in high spatial resolution MSI experiments performed using nanospray desorption electrospray ionization (nano-DESI). Specifically, we designed and constructed a portable nano-DESI MSI platform and coupled it with a drift tube ion mobility spectrometer-mass spectrometer (IM-MS). Separation of biomolecules observed in MSI experiments based on their drift times provides unique molecular descriptors necessary for their identification by comparison with databases. Furthermore, it enables isomer-specific imaging, which is particularly important for unraveling the complexity of biological systems. Imaging of day 4 pregnant mouse uterine sections using the newly developed nano-DESI-IM-MSI system demonstrates rapid isobaric and isomeric separation and reduced chemical noise in MSI experiments. A direct comparison of the performance of the new nano-DESI-MSI platform operated in the MS mode with the more established nano-DESI-Orbitrap platform indicates a comparable performance of these two systems. A spatial resolution of better than ~16 µm and similar molecular coverage was obtained using both platforms. The structural information provided by the ion mobility separation expands the molecular specificity of high-resolution MSI necessary for the detailed understanding of biological systems.