Sputter-Coated Metal Screening for Small Molecule Analysis and High-Spatial Resolution Imaging in Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry

  • Rebecca L. Hansen
  • Maria Emilia Dueñas
  • Young Jin LeeEmail author
Research Article


Nanoparticles are efficient matrices in laser desorption/ionization (LDI) mass spectrometry (MS), especially for the profiling or imaging of small molecules. Recently, solvent-free physical vapor desorption (PVD), or sputter coating, was adopted as a homogenous method to rapidly apply metal nanoparticles (NPs) in situ to samples prior to LDI MS or MS imaging analysis. However, there has been no systematic study comparing different metal targets for the analysis of a variety of small molecule metabolites. Here, we present a screening and optimization of various sputter-coated metals, including Ag, Au, Cu, Pt, Ni, and Ti, for LDI analysis of small molecules in both positive and negative ion modes. Optimized sputter coating is then applied to high-spatial resolution LDI mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) of maize root and seed cross-sections. Noble metals, Ag, Au, and Pt, are found to be much more efficient than transition metals and organic matrices for most small metabolites. Sputter-coated metals are efficient for neutral lipids, such as triacylglycerols and diacylglycerols, but are very inefficient for most phospholipids.

Graphical Abstract


Sputter coating Laser desorption ionization Mass spectrometry imaging Nanoparticles Noble metals Small molecule imaging 



This work was partially funded by the United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© American Society for Mass Spectrometry 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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