Digestion-Free Analysis of Peptides from 30-year-old Formalin-Fixed, Paraffin-Embedded Tissue by Mass Spectrometry Imaging

Martin R. L. Paine, Shane R. Ellis, Dan Maloney, Ron M. A. Heeren, Peter D. E. M. Verhaert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Formalin-fixed neuroendocrine tissues from American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) embedded in paraffin more than 30 years ago were recently analyzed by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI), to reveal the histological localization of more than 20 peptide ions. These represented protonated, and other cationic species of, at least, 14 known neuropeptides. The characterization of peptides in such historical samples was made possible by a novel sample preparation protocol rendering the endogenous peptides readily amenable to MSI analysis. The protocol comprises brief deparaffinization steps involving xylene and ethanol, and is further devoid of conventional aqueous washing, buffer incubations, or antigen retrieval steps. Endogenous secretory peptides that are typically highly soluble are therefore retained in-tissue with this protocol. The method is fully "top-down", that is, without laborious in situ enzymatic digestion that typically disturbs the detection of low-abundance endogenous peptides by MSI. Peptide identifications were supported by accurate mass, on-tissue tandem MS analyses, and by earlier MALDI-MSI results reported for freshly prepared P. americana samples. In contrast to earlier literature accounts stating that MALDI-MSI detection of endogenous peptides is possible only in fresh or freshly frozen tissues, or exceptionally, in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) material of less than 1 year old, we demonstrate that MALDI-MSI works for endogenous peptides in FFPE tissue of up to 30 years old. Our findings put forward a useful method for digestion-free, high-throughput analysis of endogenous peptides from FFPE samples and offer the potential for reinvestigating archived and historically interesting FFPE material, such as those stored in hospital biobanks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9272-9280
Number of pages9
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2018



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