MSEA: a web-based tool to identify biologically meaningful patterns in quantitative metabolomic data

Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Jul;38(Web Server issue):W71-7. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkq329. Epub 2010 May 10.


Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) is a widely used technique in transcriptomic data analysis that uses a database of predefined gene sets to rank lists of genes from microarray studies to identify significant and coordinated changes in gene expression data. While GSEA has been playing a significant role in understanding transcriptomic data, no similar tools are currently available for understanding metabolomic data. Here, we introduce a web-based server, called Metabolite Set Enrichment Analysis (MSEA), to help researchers identify and interpret patterns of human or mammalian metabolite concentration changes in a biologically meaningful context. Key to the development of MSEA has been the creation of a library of approximately 1000 predefined metabolite sets covering various metabolic pathways, disease states, biofluids, and tissue locations. MSEA also supports user-defined or custom metabolite sets for more specialized analysis. MSEA offers three different enrichment analyses for metabolomic studies including overrepresentation analysis (ORA), single sample profiling (SSP) and quantitative enrichment analysis (QEA). ORA requires only a list of compound names, while SSP and QEA require both compound names and compound concentrations. MSEA generates easily understood graphs or tables embedded with hyperlinks to relevant pathway images and disease descriptors. For non-mammalian or more specialized metabolomic studies, MSEA allows users to provide their own metabolite sets for enrichment analysis. The MSEA server also supports conversion between metabolite common names, synonyms, and major database identifiers. MSEA has the potential to help users identify obvious as well as 'subtle but coordinated' changes among a group of related metabolites that may go undetected with conventional approaches. MSEA is freely available at

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dictionaries as Topic
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Software*
  • User-Computer Interface