New technique can determine the location and quantity of lipids in the brain

A research team at the Beckman Institute of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has devised a unique method that can establish the amount, location, and the specific molecular form of lipids in rat brain tissue samples. This technique offers more information than earlier ones.

New technique can determine the location and quantity of lipids in the brain
Jonathan Sweedler is interested in analytical neurochemistry and studying the distribution of neurotransmitters. Image Credit: Della Perrone for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

The paper titled “Quantitative Imprint Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Endogenous Ceramides in Rat Brain Tissue with Kinetic Calibration” was published in the Analytical Chemistry journal.

According to Jonathan Sweedler, James R. Eiszner Family Endowed Chair in Chemistry and the director of the School of Chemical Sciences, “The brain is like a bar of butter. The most common molecules are water and lipids. Unfortunately, we don’t fully understand the chemical complexity of lipids in the brain, which makes it hard to know their functions and how they are affected by different diseases.”

Earlier studies in the field established the composition of lipids in the brain area, but not the amount of localization. The Sweedler Research Group further improved a new method known as mass spectroscopy imaging that quantifies all the three, that is, composition, amount, and localization.

The technique allows us to look at a slice of a rat brain and figure out the locations of specific and unusual lipids.”

Jonathan Sweedler, Director of the School of Chemical Sciences, Beckman Institute

Members belonging to the Sweedler Research Group have successfully imprinted the tissues onto slides comprising chemicals that could enter the tissues and the other way round.

It’s like taking a piece of paper with ink and putting silly putty on it and seeing the image on the silly putty.”

Jonathan Sweedler, Director of the School of Chemical Sciences, Beckman Institute

With the help of this method, scientists were able to find out the amount and distribution of ceramides in the tissue samples; ceramides are crucial for both memory and learning. But this technique has certain drawbacks.

Although it works well for certain categories of lipids, we haven’t shown that it works for the molecules found in the brain. Additionally, it requires more steps because you have to prepare the brain sample and the surfaces that have the chemical coating.”

Jonathan Sweedler, Director of the School of Chemical Sciences, Beckman Institute

The team expects that this method will allow them to examine the way the lipid composition varies in response to drugs of abuse and pain medicines. This could support researchers seeking alternative treatments for prevalent chronic pain treatments.

Source:
Journal reference:

Wu, Q., et al. (2020) Quantitative Imprint Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Endogenous Ceramides in Rat Brain Tissue with Kinetic Calibration. Analytical Chemistry. doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.0c00392.

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