Prolonged storage of biospecimen can lead to artificially altered metabolite concentrations and thus bias data analysis in metabolomics experiments. To elucidate the potential impact of long-term storage on the metabolite profile, a pooled human plasma sample was aliquoted and stored at -80 °C. During a time period of five years, 1012 of the aliquots were measured with the Biocrates AbsoluteIDQ p180 targeted-metabolomics assay at 193 time points. Modeling the concentration courses over time revealed that 55 out of 111 metabolites remained stable. The statistically significantly changed metabolites showed on average an increase or decrease of +13.7% or -14.5%, respectively. In detail, increased concentration levels were observed for amino acids (mean: + 15.4%), the sum of hexoses (+7.9%), butyrylcarnitine (+9.4%), and some phospholipids mostly with chain lengths exceeding 40 carbon atoms (mean: +18.0%). Lipids tended to exhibit decreased concentration levels with the following mean concentration changes: acylcarnitines, -12.1%; lysophosphatidylcholines, -15.1%; diacyl-phosphatidylcholines, -17.0%; acyl-alkyl-phosphatidylcholines, -13.3%; sphingomyelins, -14.8%. We conclude that storage of plasma samples at -80 °C for up to five years can lead to altered concentration levels of amino acids, acylcarnitines, glycerophospholipids, sphingomyelins, and the sum of hexoses. These alterations must be considered when analyzing metabolomics data from long-term epidemiological studies.
Keywords: biobanking; human plasma; long-term stability; mass spectrometry; metabolomics; storage.