Total Fatty Acid Analysis of Human Blood Samples in One Minute by High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry

Biomolecules. 2018 Dec 27;9(1):7. doi: 10.3390/biom9010007.


Total fatty acid analysis is a routine method in many areas, including lipotyping of individuals in personalized medicine, analysis of foodstuffs, and optimization of oil production in biotechnology. This analysis is commonly done by converting fatty acyl (FA) chains of intact lipids into FA methyl esters (FAMEs) and monitoring these by gas-chromatography (GC)-based methods, typically requiring at least 15 min of analysis per sample. Here, we describe a novel method that supports fast, precise and accurate absolute quantification of total FA levels in human plasma and serum samples. The method uses acid-catalyzed transesterification with 18O-enriched H₂O (i.e., H₂18O) to convert FA chains into 18O-labeled free fatty acids. The resulting "mass-tagged" FA analytes can be specifically monitored with improved signal-to-background by 1 min of high resolution Fourier transform mass spectrometry (FTMS) on an Orbitrap-based mass spectrometer. By benchmarking to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) certified standard reference materials we show that the performance of our method is comparable, and at times superior, to that of gold-standard GC-based methods. In addition, we demonstrate that the method supports the accurate quantification of FA differences in samples obtained in dietary intervention studies and also affords specific monitoring of ingested stable isotope-labeled fatty acids (13C16-palmitate) in normoinsulinemic and hyperinsulinemic human subjects. Overall, our novel high-throughput method is generic and suitable for many application areas, spanning basic research to personalized medicine, and is particularly useful for laboratories equipped with high resolution mass spectrometers, but lacking access to GC-based instrumentation.

Keywords: Orbitrap; high resolution mass spectrometry; human blood plasma; shotgun lipidomics; total fatty acid analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Esters / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Oxygen Isotopes / chemistry
  • Water / chemistry


  • Esters
  • Fatty Acids
  • Oxygen Isotopes
  • Oxygen-18
  • Water