Main content area

Single-cell mass spectrometry reveals small molecules that affect cell fates in the 16-cell embryo

Onjiko, Rosemary M., Moody, Sally A., Nemes, Peter
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2015 v.112 no.21 pp. 6545-6550
RNA, embryogenesis, mass spectrometry, metabolites, physiological state, pigmentation, proteins, tissues
Spatial and temporal changes in molecular expression are essential to embryonic development, and their characterization is critical to understand mechanisms by which cells acquire different phenotypes. Although technological advances have made it possible to quantify expression of large molecules during embryogenesis, little information is available on metabolites, the ultimate indicator of physiological activity of the cell. Here, we demonstrate that single-cell capillary electrophoresis-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry is able to test whether differential expression of the genome translates to the domain of metabolites between single embryonic cells. Dissection of three different cell types with distinct tissue fates from 16-cell embryos of the South African clawed frog ( Xenopus laevis ) and microextraction of their metabolomes enabled the identification of 40 metabolites that anchored interconnected central metabolic networks. Relative quantitation revealed that several metabolites were differentially active between the cell types in the wild-type, unperturbed embryos. Altering postfertilization cytoplasmic movements that perturb dorsal development confirmed that these three cells have characteristic small-molecular activity already at cleavage stages as a result of cell type and not differences in pigmentation, yolk content, cell size, or position in the embryo. Changing the metabolite concentration caused changes in cell movements at gastrulation that also altered the tissue fates of these cells, demonstrating that the metabolome affects cell phenotypes in the embryo.