Central and peripheral nervous systems are lipid rich tissues. Lipids, in the context of lipid-protein complexes, surround neurons and provide electrical insulation for transmission of signals allowing neurons to remain embedded within a conducting environment. Lipids play a key role in vesicle formation and fusion in synapses. They provide means of rapid signaling, cell motility and migration for astrocytes and other cell types that surround and play supporting roles neurons. Unlike many other signaling molecules, lipids are capable of multiple signaling events based on the different fragments generated from a single precursor during each event. Lipidomics, until recently suffered from two major disadvantages: (1) level of expertise required an overwhelming amount of chemical detail to correctly identify a vast number of different lipids which could be close in their chemical reactivity; and (2) high amount of purified compounds needed by analytical techniques to determine their structures. Advances in mass spectrometry have enabled overcoming these two limitations. Mass spectrometry offers a great degree of simplicity in identification and quantification of lipids directly extracted from complex biological mixtures. Mass spectrometers can be regarded to as mass analyzers. There are those that separate and analyze the product ion fragments in space (spatial) and those which separate product ions in time in the same space (temporal). Databases and standardized instrument parameters have further aided the capabilities of the spatial instruments while recent advances in bioinformatics have made the identification and quantification possible using temporal instruments.
The review is published online in World Journal of Biological Chemistry and is free to access.