Untargeted Mass Spectrometry Lipidomics identifies correlation between serum sphingomyelins and plasma cholesterol

Lipids Health Dis. 2019 Feb 2;18(1):38. doi: 10.1186/s12944-018-0948-5.


Background: Lipoproteins are major players in the development and progression of atherosclerotic plaques leading to coronary stenosis and myocardial infarction. Epidemiological, genetic and experimental observations have implicated the association of sphingolipids and intermediates of sphingolipid synthesis in atherosclerosis. We aimed to investigate relationships between quantitative changes in serum sphingolipids, the regulation of the metabolism of lipoproteins (LDL, HDL), and endophenotypes of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Methods: We carried out untargeted liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS) lipidomics of serum samples of subjects belonging to a cross-sectional study and recruited on the basis of absence or presence of angiographically-defined CAD, and extensively characterized for clinical and biochemical phenotypes.

Results: Among the 2998 spectral features detected in the serum samples, 1328 metabolic features were significantly correlated with at least one of the clinical or biochemical phenotypes measured in the cohort. We found evidence of significant associations between 34 metabolite signals, corresponding to a set of sphingomyelins, and serum HDL cholesterol. Many of these metabolite associations were also observed with serum LDL and total cholesterol levels but not as much with serum triglycerides.

Conclusion: Among patients with CAD, sphingolipids in the form of sphingomyelins are directly correlated with serum levels of lipoproteins and total cholesterol. Results from this study support the fundamental role of sphingolipids in modulating lipid serum levels, highlighting the importance to identify novel targets in the sphingolipid metabolic pathway for anti-atherogenic therapies.

Keywords: HDL cholesterol; Lipidomics; Lipoproteins; Sphingolipids; UPLC-MS.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / blood
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / blood
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics / instrumentation
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Sphingomyelins / blood*
  • Young Adult


  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Cholesterol