News Release

Probing proteins in single cells

Reports and Proceedings

American Chemical Society

Different cells make different proteins, and knowledge of these differences could greatly enhance scientists’ understanding of the roles of individual cells in healthy tissues and in disease. But obtaining enough protein from a single cell to analyze has been challenging. Now, researchers have developed new methods that could unlock the proteomic secrets of individual cells, according to a cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society.

For years, scientists have had tools, such as the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (known as RT-PCR), to analyze genes being transcribed in single cells. However, they lacked analogous tools to boost tiny traces of proteins into detectable signals, writes Senior Correspondent Celia Henry Arnaud. But now, advances in mass spectrometry and sample processing are allowing scientists to see cell-to-cell differences, with the goal of someday getting a full readout of all proteins being made in a cell. 

Although still a long way from achieving this objective, scientists have identified hundreds of proteins from single cells, which is fueling new discoveries in fields such as developmental biology, cancer biology and neuroscience. For example, researchers have used single-cell proteomics to detect differences in proteins among individual cells in 16-cell frog embryos, which has revealed new insights into how embryonic stem cells develop. Others have used the techniques to learn more about cancer cell regulation and signaling, which could help answer the question of why some cancers don’t respond to therapies. And still others are studying how the ratios of proteins that control muscle contraction change during heart diseases, which could lead to personalized therapies for heart failure. The field of single-cell proteomics — which many scientists thought was out of reach — has grown rapidly in the past couple of years with the advent of new techniques, more sensitive mass spectrometers and interdisciplinary approaches, Arnaud writes.

The article, "Individual cells’ proteins vary. Single-cell proteomics can now show how," is freely available here

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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