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    Staining of biological cells with heavy metals can increase their visibility in mass spectrometry. In this study, the potential of ruthenium red (RR) as a staining agent for single-cell analysis by inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (SC-ICP-TOF-MS) is explored using two different yeast strains and one algal species. Time-of-flight mass spectrometry allows the simultaneous detection of Ru and multiple intrinsic elements in single cells. Ru has a better correlation with Mg than with P in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae) cells. For the three tested strains, the staining efficiency of RR exceeded 96%; the staining strengths were 30-32 ag μm-2 for the yeast cells and 59 ag μm-2 for the algal cells. By deriving the cell volume of single cells from their Ru mass, the concentration of Mg and P in individual cells of S. cerevisiae can be calculated. Elemental concentrations of Mg and P were highly variable in the cell individuals, with their 25-75 percentile values of 0.10-0.19 and 0.76-2.07 fg μm-3, respectively. RR staining has several advantages: it is fast, does not affect cell viability and is highly efficient. Provided that the shape of the individual cells of a culture is similar, Ru staining allows the elemental content to be directly correlated with the cell volume to accurately calculate the intracellular concentration of target elements in single cells. Therefore, RR can be a promising cell staining agent for future application in SC-ICP-TOF-MS research.


    Wen Qin, Hans-Joachim Stärk, Thorsten Reemtsma. Ruthenium red: a highly efficient and versatile cell staining agent for single-cell analysis using inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry. The Analyst. 2021 Nov 08;146(22):6753-6759

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    PMID: 34643628

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