Chemical Isotope Labeling LC-MS for High Coverage and Quantitative Profiling of the Hydroxyl Submetabolome in Metabolomics

Anal Chem. 2016 Nov 1;88(21):10617-10623. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b02967. Epub 2016 Oct 10.


A key step in metabolomics is to perform accurate relative quantification of the metabolomes in comparative samples with high coverage. Hydroxyl-containing metabolites are an important class of the metabolome with diverse structures and physical/chemical properties; however, many of them are difficult to detect with high sensitivity. We present a high-performance chemical isotope labeling liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) technique for in-depth profiling of the hydroxyl submetabolome, which involves the use of acidic liquid-liquid extraction to enrich hydroxyl metabolites into ethyl acetate from an aqueous sample. After drying and then redissolving in acetonitrile, the metabolite extract is labeled using a base-activated 12C- or 13C-dansylation reaction. A fast step-gradient LC-UV method is used to determine the total concentration of labeled metabolites. On the basis of the concentration information, a 12C-labeled individual sample is mixed with an equal mole amount of a 13C-labeled pool or control for relative metabolite quantification. The 12C-/13C-labeled mixtures are individually analyzed by LC-MS, and the resultant peak pairs of labeled metabolites in MS are measured for relative quantification and metabolite identification. A standard library of 85 hydroxyl compounds containing MS, retention time, and MS/MS information was constructed for positive metabolite identification based on matches of two or all three of these parameters with those of an unknown. Using human urine as an example, we analyzed samples of 1:1 12C-/13C-labeled urine in triplicate with triplicate runs per sample and detected an average of 3759 ± 45 peak pairs or metabolites per run and 3538 ± 71 pairs per sample with 3093 pairs in common (n = 9). Out of the 3093 peak pairs, 2304 pairs (75%) could be positively or putatively identified based on metabolome database searches, including 20 pairs positively identified using the dansylated hydroxyl standards library. The majority of detected metabolites were those containing hydroxyl groups. This technique opens a new avenue for the detailed characterization of the hydroxyl submetabolome in metabolomics research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohols / chemistry
  • Alcohols / urine*
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods
  • Dansyl Compounds / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Metabolome*
  • Metabolomics*


  • Alcohols
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dansyl Compounds
  • dansyl chloride