Critical evaluation of fast and highly resolved elemental distribution in single cells using LA-ICP-SFMS†
The analytical potential of a nanosecond laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ns-LA-ICP-SFMS) system, equipped with an ultra-fast wash-out ablation chamber, is critically investigated for fast and highly spatially resolved (∼μm) qualitative elemental distribution within single cells. Initially, a low surface roughness (<10 nm) thin In–SnO2 layer (total coating thickness ∼200 nm) deposited on glass is employed to investigate the size, morphology and overlapping of laser-induced craters obtained at different laser repetition rates, making use of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Conical craters with a surface diameter of about 2 μm and depths of about 100 nm were measured after a single laser shot. Furthermore, the influence of the sampling distance (i.e. distance between the sample surface and the inner sniffer of the ablation chamber) on the LA-ICP-MS ion signal wash-out time is evaluated. A significant decrease of the transient 120Sn+ ion signal is noticed after slight variations (±200 μm) around the optimum sampling position. Ultra-fast wash-outs (<10 ms) are achieved reducing the aerosol mixing from consecutive laser shots even when operating the laser at high repetition rates (25–100 Hz). Fast and highly spatially resolved images of elemental distribution within mouse embryonic fibroblast cells (NIH/3T3 fibroblast cells) and human cervical carcinoma cells (HeLa cells), incubated with gold nanoparticles (Au NPs) and Cd-based quantum dots (QDs), respectively, are determined at the optimized operating conditions. Elemental distribution of Au and Cd in single cells is achieved using a high scanning speed (50 μm s−1) and high repetition rate (100 Hz). The results obtained for the distribution of fluorescent Cd-based QDs within the HeLa cells are in good agreement with those obtained by confocal microscopy. The size, morphology and overlapping of laser-induced craters in the fixed cells are also investigated using AFM, observing conical craters with a surface diameter of about 2.5 μm and depths of about 800 nm after a single laser shot.