In a variety of neurological diseases, pathological progression is cell type and region specific. Previous reports suggest that mass spectrometry imaging has the potential to differentiate between brain regions enriched in specific cell types. Here, we utilized a matrix-free surface mass spectrometry approach, nanostructure initiator mass spectrometry (NIMS), to show that spatial distributions of multiple lipids can be used as a ‘fingerprint’ to discriminate between neuronal- and glial- enriched brain regions. In addition, glial cells from different brain regions can be distinguished based on unique lipid profiles. NIMS images were generated from sagittal brain sections and were matched with immunostained serial sections to define glial cell enriched areas. Tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS QTOF) on whole brain extracts was used to identify 18 phospholipids. Multivariate statistical analysis (Nonnegative Matrix Factorization) enhanced differentiation of brain regions and cell populations compared to single ion imaging methods. This analysis resolved brain regions that are difficult to distinguish using conventional stains but are known to have distinct physiological functions. This method accurately distinguished the frontal (or somatomotor) and dorsal (or retrosplenial) regions of the cortex from each other and from the pons region.
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