2D and 3D MALDI-imaging: Conceptual strategies for visualization and data mining

Herbert Thiele*, Stefan Heldmann, Dennis Trede, Jan Strehlow, Stefan Wirtz, Wolfgang Dreher, Judith Berger, Janina Oetjen, Jan Hendrik Kobarg, Bernd Fischer, Peter Maass

*Corresponding author for this work
20 Citations (Scopus)


3D imaging has a significant impact on many challenges in life sciences, because biology is a 3-dimensional phenomenon. Current 3D imaging-technologies (various types MRI, PET, SPECT) are labeled, i.e. they trace the localization of a specific compound in the body. In contrast, 3D MALDI mass spectrometry-imaging (MALDI-MSI) is a label-free method imaging the spatial distribution of molecular compounds. It complements 3D imaging labeled methods, immunohistochemistry, and genetics-based methods. However, 3D MALDI-MSI cannot tap its full potential due to the lack of statistical methods for analysis and interpretation of large and complex 3D datasets. To overcome this, we established a complete and robust 3D MALDI-MSI pipeline combined with efficient computational data analysis methods for 3D edge preserving image denoising, 3D spatial segmentation as well as finding colocalized m/z values, which will be reviewed here in detail. Furthermore, we explain, why the integration and correlation of the MALDI imaging data with other imaging modalities allows to enhance the interpretation of the molecular data and provides visualization of molecular patterns that may otherwise not be apparent. Therefore, a 3D data acquisition workflow is described generating a set of 3 different dimensional images representing the same anatomies. First, an in-vitro MRI measurement is performed which results in a three-dimensional image modality representing the 3D structure of the measured object. After sectioning the 3D object into N consecutive slices, all N slices are scanned using an optical digital scanner, enabling for performing the MS measurements. Scanning the individual sections results into low-resolution images, which define the base coordinate system for the whole pipeline. The scanned images conclude the information from the spatial (MRI) and the mass spectrometric (MALDI-MSI) dimension and are used for the spatial three-dimensional reconstruction of the object performed by image registration techniques. Different strategies for automatic serial image registration applied to MS datasets are outlined in detail. The third image modality is histology driven, i.e. a digital scan of the histological stained slices in high-resolution. After fusion of reconstructed scan images and MRI the slice-related coordinates of the mass spectra can be propagated into 3D-space. After image registration of scan images and histological stained images, the anatomical information from histology is fused with the mass spectra from MALDI-MSI. As a result of the described pipeline we have a set of 3 dimensional images representing the same anatomies, i.e. the reconstructed slice scans, the spectral images as well as corresponding clustering results, and the acquired MRI. Great emphasis is put on the fact that the co-registered MRI providing anatomical details improves the interpretation of 3D MALDI images. The ability to relate mass spectrometry derived molecular information with in vivo and in vitro imaging has potentially important implications. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Computational Proteomics in the Post-Identification Era. Guest Editors: Martin Eisenacher and Christian Stephan.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Proteins and Proteomics
Issue number1 PART A
Pages (from-to)117-137
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2014


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