The potential of mass spectrometry imaging in plant metabolomics: a review

Heino M. Heyman, Ian A. Dubery

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Imaging mass spectrometry (MSI) has contributed important information to several scientific fields and more recently to the biological sciences. The use of MSI as an investigative tool for plant metabolomics has recently been explored and initial results show a promising direction that plant metabolomics could be heading to with the use of these mass directed imaging techniques. Matrix assisted laser desorption ionisation (MALDI), secondary ion mass spectrometry and desorption electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry are the best-known MSI techniques used currently. MALDI-MSI is the most common used technique for molecular imaging. With new developments, spatial resolution capabilities have reached 5 μm which has resulted in a significant improvement in the data outputs for MSI analysis. Developments in the improvement of sample preparation techniques, instrumental improvements and more efficient and effective data analysis, have had a dramatic improvement in the obtained informational content. More recent developments on instrumentation and applications are seeing a change in direction towards the imaging of lower mass range metabolites. The unique feature that MSI brings to bio-analytical analysis is the possibility to analyse the distribution of hundreds of plant metabolites across a sample without any significant sample preparation. This has highlighted the potential of MSI techniques as ideal for metabolome analysis with the additional advantage of generating crucial spatial distribution information as well. The further development of MSI for the use in plant metabolomics is at an exciting time and the prospects for interesting new discoveries are very evident.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-316
Number of pages20
JournalPhytochemistry Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • DESI
  • Imaging
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Metabolomics
  • Plant metabolites
  • SIMS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Plant Science


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