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The use of single-cell assays has emerged as a cutting-edge technique during the past decade. Although single-cell mass spectrometry (MS) has recently achieved remarkable results, deep biological insights have not yet been obtained, probably because of various technical issues, including the unavoidable use of matrices, the inability to maintain cell viability, low throughput because of sample pretreatment, and the lack of recordings of cell physiological activities from the same cell. In this study, we describe a patch clamp/MS-based platform that enables the sensitive, rapid, and in situ chemical profiling of single living neurons. This approach integrates modified patch clamp technique and modified MS measurements to directly collect and detect nanoliter-scale samples from the cytoplasm of single neurons in mice brain slices. Abundant possible cytoplasmic constituents were detected in a single neuron at a relatively fast rate, and over 50 metabolites were identified in this study. The advantages of direct, rapid, and in situ sampling and analysis enabled us to measure the biological activities of the cytoplasmic constituents in a single neuron, including comparing neuron types by cytoplasmic chemical constituents; observing changes in constituent concentrations as the physiological conditions, such as age, vary; and identifying the metabolic pathways of small molecules.

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One of the impressive things about biochemistry and cell biology is how it can produce physical correlates to things that we know and experience, but have no detailed explanation for. There’s a really interesting example out in Cellthat has to do with...