Untargeted metabolomic profiling identifies disease-specific signatures in food allergy and asthma

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2020 Mar;145(3):897-906. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2019.10.014. Epub 2019 Oct 25.


Background: Food allergy (FA) affects an increasing proportion of children for reasons that remain obscure. Novel disease biomarkers and curative treatment options are strongly needed.

Objective: We sought to apply untargeted metabolomic profiling to identify pathogenic mechanisms and candidate disease biomarkers in patients with FA.

Methods: Mass spectrometry-based untargeted metabolomic profiling was performed on serum samples of children with either FA alone, asthma alone, or both FA and asthma, as well as healthy pediatric control subjects.

Results: In this pilot study patients with FA exhibited a disease-specific metabolomic signature compared with both control subjects and asthmatic patients. In particular, FA was uniquely associated with a marked decrease in sphingolipid levels, as well as levels of a number of other lipid metabolites, in the face of normal frequencies of circulating natural killer T cells. Specific comparison of patients with FA and asthmatic patients revealed differences in the microbiota-sensitive aromatic amino acid and secondary bile acid metabolism. Children with both FA and asthma exhibited a metabolomic profile that aligned with that of FA alone but not asthma. Among children with FA, the history of severe systemic reactions and the presence of multiple FAs were associated with changes in levels of tryptophan metabolites, eicosanoids, plasmalogens, and fatty acids.

Conclusions: Children with FA have a disease-specific metabolomic profile that is informative of disease mechanisms and severity and that dominates in the presence of asthma. Lower levels of sphingolipids and ceramides and other metabolomic alterations observed in children with FA might reflect the interplay between an altered microbiota and immune cell subsets in the gut.

Keywords: Asthma; food allergy; invariant natural killer T cells; metabolites; metabolomics; secondary bile acids; sphingolipids; tryptophan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolome
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Pilot Projects


  • Biomarkers