Sub-nanoliter metabolomics via mass spectrometry to characterize volume-limited samples


The human metabolome provides a window into the mechanisms and biomarkers of various diseases. However, because of limited availability, many sample types are still difficult to study by metabolomic analyses. Here, we present a mass spectrometry (MS)-based metabolomics strategy that only consumes sub-nanoliter sample volumes. The approach consists of combining a customized metabolomics workflow with a pulsed MS ion generation method, known as triboelectric nanogenerator inductive nanoelectrospray ionization (TENGi nanoESI) MS. Samples tested with this approach include exhaled breath condensate collected from cystic fibrosis patients as well as in vitro-cultured human mesenchymal stromal cells. Both test samples are only available in minimum amounts. Experiments show that picoliter-volume spray pulses suffice to generate high-quality spectral fingerprints, which increase the information density produced per unit sample volume. This TENGi nanoESI strategy has the potential to fill in the gap in metabolomics where liquid chromatography-MS-based analyses cannot be applied. Our method opens up avenues for future investigations into understanding metabolic changes caused by diseases or external stimuli. The analysis of metabolites offers promises in biomarker discovery. Here the authors demonstrate the metabolomics analysis of sub-nanoliter samples using triboelectric nanogenerator inductive nanoelectrospray ionization, which they apply to exhaled breath condensate from cystic fibrosis patients and mesenchymal stromal cells.