The rapid development of next-generation sequencing techniques has enabled single-cell genomic and transcriptomic analyses, which have revealed the importance of heterogeneity in biological systems. However, analytical methods to accurately identify and quantify comprehensive metabolites from single mammalian cells with a typical diameter of 10–20 µm are still in the process of development. The aim of this study was to develop a single-cell metabolomic analytical system based on highly sensitive nanoliquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (nano-LC-MS/MS) with multiple reaction monitoring. A packed nano-LC column (3-µm particle-size pentafluorophenylpropyl Discovery HSF5 of dimensions 100 µm i.d.×180 mm) was prepared using a slurry technique. The optimized nano-LC-MS/MS method showed 3–132-fold (average value, 26-fold) greater sensitivity than semimicro-LC-MS/MS, and the detection limits for several hydrophilic metabolites, including amino acids and nucleic acid related metabolites were in the sub-fmol range. By combining live single-cell sampling and nano-LC-MS/MS, we successfully detected 18 relatively abundant hydrophilic metabolites (16 amino acids and 2 nucleic acid related metabo-lites) from single HeLa cells (n=22). Based on single-cell metabolic profiles, the 22 HeLa cells were classified into three distinct subclasses, suggesting differences in metabolic function in cultured HeLa cell populations. Our single-cell metabolomic analytical system represents a potentially useful tool for in-depth studies focused on cell metabolism and heterogeneity.
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