Development of Chemical Isotope Labeling LC-MS for Milk Metabolomics: Comprehensive and Quantitative Profiling of the Amine/Phenol Submetabolome

Anal Chem. 2017 Apr 18;89(8):4435-4443. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b03737. Epub 2017 Mar 28.


Milk is a complex sample containing a variety of proteins, lipids, and metabolites. Studying the milk metabolome represents an important application of metabolomics in the general area of nutritional research. However, comprehensive and quantitative analysis of milk metabolites is a challenging task due to the wide range of variations in chemical/physical properties and concentrations of these metabolites. We report an analytical workflow for in-depth profiling of the milk metabolome based on chemical isotope labeling (CIL) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) with a focus of using dansylation labeling to target the amine/phenol submetabolome. An optimal sample preparation method, including the use of methanol at a 3:1 ratio of solvent to milk for protein precipitation and dichloromethane for lipid removal, was developed to detect and quantify as many metabolites as possible. This workflow was found to be generally applicable to profile milk metabolomes of different species (cow, goat, and human) and types. Results from experimental replicate analysis (n = 5) of 1:1, 2:1, and 1:2 12C-/13C-labeled cow milk samples showed that 95.7%, 94.3%, and 93.2% of peak pairs, respectively, had ratio values within ±50% accuracy range and 90.7%, 92.6%, and 90.8% peak pairs had RSD values of less than 20%. In the metabolomic analysis of 36 samples from different categories of cow milk (brands, batches, and fat percentages) with experimental triplicates, a total of 7104 peak pairs or metabolites could be detected with an average of 4573 ± 505 (n = 108) pairs detected per LC-MS run. Among them, 3820 peak pairs were commonly detected in over 80% of the samples with 70 metabolites positively identified by mass and retention time matches to the dansyl standard library and 2988 pairs with their masses matched to the human metabolome libraries. This unprecedentedly high coverage of the amine/phenol submetabolome illustrates the complexity of the milk metabolome. Since milk and milk products are consumed in large quantities on a daily basis, the intake of these milk metabolites even at low concentrations can be cumulatively high. The high-coverage analysis of the milk metabolome using CIL LC-MS should be very useful in future research involving the study of the effects of these metabolites on human health. It should also be useful in the dairy industry in areas such as improving milk production, developing new processing technologies, developing improved nutritional products, quality control, and milk product authentication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amines / analysis
  • Amines / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry
  • Cattle
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dansyl Compounds / chemistry
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Metabolome*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Phenols / metabolism*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry*


  • Amines
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dansyl Compounds
  • Phenols
  • Carbon-13
  • dansyl chloride