Effect of sample preparation techniques upon single cell chemical imaging: A practical comparison between synchrotron radiation based X-ray fluorescence (SR-XRF) and Nanoscopic Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (nano-SIMS)

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Analytica Chimica Acta, Volume 1106, p.22-32 (2020)


Analytical capabilities of Nanoscopic Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (nano-SIMS) and Synchrotron Radiation based X-ray Fluorescence (SR nano-XRF) techniques were compared for nanochemical imaging of polymorphonuclear human neutrophils (PMNs). PMNs were high pressure frozen (HPF), cryosubstituted, embedded in Spurr’s resin and cut in thin sections (500 nm and 2 mm for both techniques resp.) Nano-SIMS enabled nanoscale mapping of isotopes of C, N, O, P and S, while SR based nano-XRF enabled trace level imaging of metals like Ca, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu and Zn at a resolution of approx. 50 nm.

The obtained elemental distributions were compared with those of whole, cryofrozen PMNs measured at the newly developed ID16A nano-imaging beamline at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. Similarities were observed for elements more tightly bound to the cell structure such as phosphorus and sulphur, while differences for mobile ions such as chlorine and potassium were more pronounced. Due to the observed elemental redistribution of mobile ions such as potassium and chlorine, elemental analysis of high pressure frozen (HPF), cryo-substituted and imbedded cells should be interpreted critically. Although decreasing analytical sensitivity occurs due to the presence of ice, analysis of cryofrozen cells - close to their native state - remains the golden standard. In general, we found nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nano-SIMS) and synchrotron radiation based nanoscopic X-ray fluorescence (SR nano-XRF) to be two supplementary alternatives for nanochemical imaging of single cells at the nanoscale.

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