Discovering and validating between-subject variations in plasma lipids in healthy subjects

Sci Rep. 2016 Jan 8:6:19139. doi: 10.1038/srep19139.


Lipid levels are commonly used in clinical settings as disease biomarkers, and the advent of mass spectrometry-based (MS) lipidomics heralds the possibility of identifying additional lipids that can inform disease predispositions. However, the degree of natural variation for many lipids remains poorly understood, thus confounding downstream investigations on whether a specific intervention is driving observed lipid fluctuations. Here, we performed targeted mass spectrometry with multiple reaction monitoring across a comprehensive spectrum of 192 plasma lipids on eight subjects across three time-points separated by six hours and two standardized meals. A validation study to confirm the initial discoveries was performed in a further set of nine subjects, subject to the identical study design. Technical variation of the MS was assessed using duplicate measurements in the validation study, while biological variation was measured for lipid species with coefficients of variation <20%. We observed that eight lipid species from the phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylcholine lipid classes were discovered and validated to vary consistently across the three time-points, where the within-subject variance can be up to 1.3-fold higher than between-subject variance. These findings highlight the importance of understanding the range of biological variation in plasma lipids as a precursor to their use in clinical biochemistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Observer Variation
  • Phosphatidylcholines / blood*
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / blood*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Singapore


  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • phosphatidylethanolamine