Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and mass spectrometry (MS) are the two most commonly used analytical tools in metabolomics, and their complementary nature makes the combination particularly attractive. A combined analytical approach can improve the potential for providing reliable methods to detect metabolic profile alterations in biofluids or tissues caused by disease, toxicity, etc. In this paper, (1)H NMR spectroscopy and direct analysis in real time (DART)-MS were used for the metabolomics analysis of serum samples from breast cancer patients and healthy controls. Principal component analysis (PCA) of the NMR data showed that the first principal component (PC1) scores could be used to separate cancer from normal samples. However, no such obvious clustering could be observed in the PCA score plot of DART-MS data, even though DART-MS can provide a rich and informative metabolic profile. Using a modified multivariate statistical approach, the DART-MS data were then reevaluated by orthogonal signal correction (OSC) pretreated partial least squares (PLS), in which the Y matrix in the regression was set to the PC1 score values from the NMR data analysis. This approach, and a similar one using the first latent variable from PLS-DA of the NMR data resulted in a significant improvement of the separation between the disease samples and normals, and a metabolic profile related to breast cancer could be extracted from DART-MS. The new approach allows the disease classification to be expressed on a continuum as opposed to a binary scale and thus better represents the disease and healthy classifications. An improved metabolic profile obtained by combining MS and NMR by this approach may be useful to achieve more accurate disease detection and gain more insight regarding disease mechanisms and biology.
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