MS imaging (MSI) is a remarkable new technology that enables us to determine the distribution of biological molecules present in tissue sections by direct ionization and detection. This technique is now widely used for in situ imaging of endogenous or exogenous molecules such as proteins, lipids, drugs and their metabolites, and it is a potential tool for pathological analysis and the investigation of disease mechanisms. MSI is also thought to be a technique that could be used for biomarker discovery with spatial information. The application of MSI to the study of endogenous metabolites has received considerable attention because metabolites are the result of the interactions of a system's genome with its environment and a total set of these metabolites more closely represents the phenotype of an organism under a given set of conditions. Recent studies have suggested the importance of in situ metabolite imaging in biological discovery and biomedical applications, but several issues regarding the technical application limits of MSI still remained to be resolved. In this review, we describe the capabilities of the latest MSI techniques for the imaging of endogenous metabolites in biological samples, and also discuss the technical problems and new challenges that need to be addressed for effective and widespread application of MSI in both preclinical and clinical settings.This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Imaging Mass Spectrometry: A User's Guide to a New Technique for Biological and Biomedical Research.
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