Mass Spectrometry Fingerprints of Small-Molecule Metabolites in Biofluids: Building a Spectral Library of Recurrent Spectra for Urine Analysis

Anal Chem. 2019 Sep 17;91(18):12021-12029. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.9b02977. Epub 2019 Aug 30.


A large fraction of ions observed in electrospray liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS) experiments of biological samples remain unidentified. One of the main reasons for this is that spectral libraries of pure compounds fail to account for the complexity of the metabolite profiling of complex materials. Recently, the NIST Mass Spectrometry Data Center has been developing a novel type of searchable mass spectral library that includes all recurrent unidentified spectra found in the sample profile. These libraries, in conjunction with the NIST tandem mass spectral library, allow analysts to explore most of the chemical space accessible to LC-MS analysis. In this work, we demonstrate how these libraries can provide a reliable fingerprint of the material by applying them to a variety of urine samples, including an extremely altered urine from cancer patients undergoing total body irradiation. The same workflow is applicable to any other biological fluid. The selected class of acylcarnitines is examined in detail, and derived libraries and related software are freely available. They are intended to serve as online resources for continuing community review and improvement.

MeSH terms

  • Body Fluids / chemistry*
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine / urine
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Neoplasms / urine*
  • Small Molecule Libraries / analysis*
  • Software


  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • acylcarnitine
  • Carnitine