Bourceau, P.; Geier, B.; Suerdieck, V.; Bien, T.; Soltwisch, J.; Dreisewerd, K.; Liebeke, M.

2023 Nat Protoc

Label-free molecular imaging techniques such as matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI) enable the direct and simultaneous mapping of hundreds of different metabolites in thin sections of biological tissues. However, in host–microbe interactions it remains challenging to localize microbes and to assign metabolites to the host versus members of the microbiome. We therefore developed a correlative imaging approach combining MALDI-MSI with fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) on the same section to identify and localize microbial cells. Here, we detail metaFISH as a robust and easy method for assigning the spatial distribution of metabolites to microbiome members based on imaging of nucleic acid probes, down to single-cell resolution. We describe the steps required for tissue preparation, on-tissue hybridization, fluorescence microscopy, data integration into a correlative image dataset, matrix application and MSI data acquisition. Using metaFISH, we map hundreds of metabolites and several microbial species to the micrometer scale on a single tissue section. For example, intra- and extracellular bacteria, host cells and their associated metabolites can be localized in animal tissues, revealing their complex metabolic interactions. We explain how we identify low-abundance bacterial infection sites as regions of interest for high-resolution MSI analysis, guiding the user to a trade-off between metabolite signal intensities and fluorescence signals. MetaFISH is suitable for a broad range of users from environmental microbiologists to clinical scientists. The protocol requires ~2 work days.