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During drug development, evaluation of drug and its metabolite is an essential process to understand drug activity, stability, toxicity and distribution. Liquid chromatography (LC) coupled with mass spectrometry (MS) has become the standard analytical tool for screening and identifying drug metabolites. Unlike LC/MS approach requiring liquifying the biological samples, we showed that spectral imaging (or spectral microscopy) could provide high-resolution images of doxorubicin (dox) and its metabolite doxorubicinol (dox’ol) in single living cells. Using this new method, we performed measurements without destroying the biological samples. We calculated the rate constant of dox translocating from extracellular moiety into the cell and the metabolism rate of dox to dox’ol in living cells. The translocation rate of dox into a single cell for spectral microscopy and LC/MS approaches was similar (~ 1.5 pM min−1 cell−1). When compared to spectral microscopy, the metabolism rate of dox was underestimated for about every 500 cells using LC/MS. The microscopy approach further showed that dox and dox’ol translocated to the nucleus at different rates of 0.8 and 0.3 pM min−1, respectively. LC/MS is not a practical approach to determine drug translocation from cytosol to nucleus. Using various methods, we confirmed that when combined with a high-resolution imaging, spectral characteristics of a molecule could be used as a powerful approach to analyze drug metabolism. We propose that spectral microscopy is a new method to study drug localization, translocation, transformation and identification with a resolution at a single cell level, while LC/MS is more appropriate for drug screening at an organ or tissue level.


This article was originally published in Scientific Reports, volume 11, issue 1, in 2021.


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