Detection of microscopic skin lesions presents a considerable challenge in diagnosing early-stage malignancies as well as in residual tumor interrogation after surgical intervention. In this study, we established the capability of desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging (DESI-MSI) to distinguish between micrometer-sized tumor aggregates of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a common skin cancer, and normal human skin. We analyzed 86 human specimens collected during Mohs micrographic surgery for BCC to cross-examine spatial distributions of numerous lipids and metabolites in BCC aggregates versus adjacent skin. Statistical analysis using the least absolute shrinkage and selection operation (Lasso) was employed to categorize each 200-µm-diameter picture element (pixel) of investigated skin tissue map as BCC or normal. Lasso identified 24 molecular ion signals, which are significant for pixel classification. These ion signals included lipids observed at m/z 200-1,200 and Krebs cycle metabolites observed at m/z < 200. Based on these features, Lasso yielded an overall 94.1% diagnostic accuracy pixel by pixel of the skin map compared with histopathological evaluation. We suggest that DESI-MSI/Lasso analysis can be employed as a complementary technique for delineation of microscopic skin tumors.
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