Serum profile changes in postpartum women with a history of childhood maltreatment: a combined metabolite and lipid fingerprinting study

Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 22;8(1):3468. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21763-6.


Childhood maltreatment (CM) can increase the risk of adverse health consequences in adulthood. A deeper insight in underlying biological pathways would be of high clinical relevance for early detection and intervention. The untargeted investigation of all detectable metabolites and lipids in biological samples represents a promising new avenue to identify so far unknown biological pathways associated with CM. Using an untargeted approach, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) was performed on peripheral blood serum samples collected three months postpartum from 105 women with varying degrees of CM exposure. Comprehensive univariate and multivariate statistical analyses consistently identified eight biomarker candidates putatively belonging to antioxidant-, lipid-, and endocannabinoid-associated pathways, which differentiated between women with and without CM. Classification algorithms allowed for clear prediction of the CM status with high accuracy scores (~80-90%). Similar results were obtained when excluding all women with a lifetime psychiatric diagnosis. In order to confirm the identities of these promising biomarker candidates, LC-MS/MS analysis was applied, confirming one of the metabolites as bilirubin IXa, a potent antioxidant with immunomodulatory properties. In sum, our results suggest novel pathways that could explain long-term effects of CM on health and disease by influencing biological patterns associated with energy metabolism, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bilirubin / blood
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • DNA Fingerprinting*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Metabolome / genetics*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Postpartum Period / blood*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Biomarkers
  • Lipids
  • Bilirubin