Determination of total concentration of chemically labeled metabolites as a means of metabolome sample normalization and sample loading optimization in mass spectrometry-based metabolomics

Anal Chem. 2012 Dec 18;84(24):10723-31. doi: 10.1021/ac3025625. Epub 2012 Dec 7.


For mass spectrometry (MS)-based metabolomics, it is important to use the same amount of starting materials from each sample to compare the metabolome changes in two or more comparative samples. Unfortunately, for biological samples, the total amount or concentration of metabolites is difficult to determine. In this work, we report a general approach of determining the total concentration of metabolites based on the use of chemical labeling to attach a UV absorbent to the metabolites to be analyzed, followed by rapid step-gradient liquid chromatography (LC) UV detection of the labeled metabolites. It is shown that quantification of the total labeled analytes in a biological sample facilitates the preparation of an appropriate amount of starting materials for MS analysis as well as the optimization of the sample loading amount to a mass spectrometer for achieving optimal detectability. As an example, dansylation chemistry was used to label the amine- and phenol-containing metabolites in human urine samples. LC-UV quantification of the labeled metabolites could be optimally performed at the detection wavelength of 338 nm. A calibration curve established from the analysis of a mixture of 17 labeled amino acid standards was found to have the same slope as that from the analysis of the labeled urinary metabolites, suggesting that the labeled amino acid standard calibration curve could be used to determine the total concentration of the labeled urinary metabolites. A workflow incorporating this LC-UV metabolite quantification strategy was then developed in which all individual urine samples were first labeled with (12)C-dansylation and the concentration of each sample was determined by LC-UV. The volumes of urine samples taken for producing the pooled urine standard were adjusted to ensure an equal amount of labeled urine metabolites from each sample was used for the pooling. The pooled urine standard was then labeled with (13)C-dansylation. Equal amounts of the (12)C-labeled individual sample and the (13)C-labeled pooled urine standard were mixed for LC-MS analysis. This way of concentration normalization among different samples with varying concentrations of total metabolites was found to be critical for generating reliable metabolome profiles for comparison.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Metabolome* / physiology