Open Access Open Badges Research article

Matrix assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry imaging identifies markers of ageing and osteoarthritic cartilage

Mandy J Peffers1*, Berta Cillero-Pastor2, Gert B Eijkel2, Peter D Clegg1 and Ron MA Heeren2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, University of Liverpool, Leahurst, Chester High Road, Neston, Wirral CH64 7TE, UK

2 Biomolecular Imaging Mass Spectrometry (BIMS), FOM Institute AMOLF, Science Park 104, 1098 XG Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R110  doi:10.1186/ar4560

Published: 9 May 2014



Cartilage protein distribution and the changes that occur in cartilage ageing and disease are essential in understanding the process of cartilage ageing and age related diseases such as osteoarthritis. The aim of this study was to investigate the peptide profiles in ageing and osteoarthritic (OA) cartilage sections using matrix assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI).


The distribution of proteins in young, old and OA equine cartilage was compared following tryptic digestion of cartilage slices and MALDI-MSI undertaken with a MALDI SYNAPT™ HDMS system. Protein identification was undertaken using database searches following multivariate analysis. Peptide intensity differences between young, ageing and OA cartilage were imaged with Biomap software. Analysis of aggrecanase specific cleavage patterns of a crude cartilage proteoglycan extract were used to validate some of the differences in peptide intensity identified. Immunohistochemistry studies validated the differences in protein abundance.


Young, old and OA equine cartilage was discriminated based on their peptide signature using discriminant analysis. Proteins including aggrecan core protein, fibromodulin, and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein were identified and localised. Fibronectin peptides displayed a stronger intensity in OA cartilage. Age-specific protein markers for collectin-43 and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein were identified. In addition potential fibromodulin and biglycan peptides targeted for degradation in OA were detected.


MALDI-MSI provided a novel platform to study cartilage ageing and disease enabling age and disease specific peptides in cartilage to be elucidated and spatially resolved.