Single-cell mass spectrometry with multi-solvent extraction identifies metabolic differences between left and right blastomeres in the 8-cell frog (Xenopus) embryo
Single-cell metabolic mass spectrometry enables the discovery (untargeted) analysis of small molecules in individual cells. Using single-cell capillary electrophoresis high-resolution mass spectrometry (CE-HRMS), we recently uncovered small-molecule differences between embryonic cells located along the animal–vegetal and dorsal–ventral axes of the 16-cell frog (Xenopus laevis) embryo, raising the question whether metabolic cell heterogeneity also exists along the left–right body axis. To address this question, we here advance single-cell CE-HRMS for identifying and quantifying metabolites in higher analytical sensitivity, and then use the methodology to compare metabolite production between left and right cells. Our strategy utilizes multiple solvents with complementary physicochemical properties to extract small molecules from single cells and improve electrophoretic separation, increasing metabolite ion signals for quantification and tandem HRMS. As a result, we were able to identify 55 different small molecules in D1 cells that were isolated from 8-cell embryos. To quantify metabolite production between left and right cells, we analyzed n = 24 different D1 cells in technical duplicate–triplicate measurements. Statistical and multivariate analysis based on 80 of the most repeatedly quantified compounds revealed 10 distinct metabolites that were significantly differentially accumulated in the left or right cells (p < 0.05 and fold change ≥1.5). These metabolites were enriched in the arginine–proline metabolic pathway in the right, but not the left D1 cells. Besides providing analytical benefits for single-cell HRMS, this work provides new metabolic data on the establishment of normal body asymmetry in the early developing embryo.