Use of Maldi-Tof Mass spectrometry in direct microorganism identification in clinical laboratories

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Tamara Brunelli *
Roberto Degl’Innocenti
Antonella Conti
Patrizia Casprini
(*) Corresponding Author:
Tamara Brunelli |


Mass Spectrometry is an old technique that has recently been introduced in the clinical microbiology laboratory as Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). MALDI is a soft ionization technique used in mass spectrometry that allows the analysis of biomolecules and large organic molecules which tend to be fragile and fragment when ionized.To obtain ions biological specimens are mixed with a matrix which specifically absorbs the ionization source (a laser beam). The high energy impact is followed by the formation of ions which are extract through an elastic field, focussed and detected as mass/charge (m/z) spectrum.The differences between ions are seen with TOF, a revelation system that relates the time of flight of a ion to the charge/mass value: ion with a higher m/z have are slower (a bigger time of flight) than ions with lower m/z. MALDI-TOF MS, in clinical microbiology laboratory, is used to identify bacteria and fungi directly from samples. The identification of microorganisms can be performed directly from body fluids (e.g. urine, blood culture, after centrifugation and recovery of microorganisms) or from colonies (after cultivation). The rapidity of identification is of great importance in blood cultures. Positive cultures with one microorganism are processed in a different way than those with more than one microorganism. In positive monomicrobial cultures, after separation of microbs from blood cells,we can perform an immediate identification with MALDI-TOF MS that we can communicate to the clinician, and that gives indication to perform the correct antibiogram. Major problems are present when more than one microorganism are in the culture: in this case we have to use the method of subcultivation and then the identification with mass-spectrometry can be performed. MALDI-TOF MS is a rapid, reliable and low cost technique, that can identify a growing number of microorganisms. This technique can significantly reduce the time to give an identification, that is of great importance, particularly in blood culture, where the success of therapy is strictly linked to its early beginning.

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