Impact of storage conditions on the human stool metabolome and lipidome: Preserving the most accurate fingerprint

Anal Chim Acta. 2020 Apr 29:1108:79-88. doi: 10.1016/j.aca.2020.02.046. Epub 2020 Feb 26.


Faecal metabolomics markedly emerged in clinical as well as analytical chemistry through the unveiling of aberrations in metabolic signatures as reflection of variance in gut (patho)physiology and beyond. Logistic hurdles, however, hinder the analysis of stool samples immediately following collection, inferring the need of biobanking. Yet, the optimum way of storing stool material remains to be determined, in order to conserve an accurate snapshot of the metabolome and circumvent artifacts regarding the disease and parameter(s) under observation. To address this problem, this study scrutinised the impact of freeze-thaw cycling, storage duration, temperature and aerobicity, thereby using ultra-high performance liquid chromatography-high-resolution mass spectrometry (UPLC-HRMS)-based polar metabolomics and lipidomics methodologies for faecal metabolomics. Both targeted (n > 400) and untargeted approaches were implemented to assess storage effects on individual chemical classes of metabolites as well as the faecal fingerprint. In general, recommendations are that intact stool samples should be divided into aliquots, lyophilised and stored at -80 °C for a period no longer than 18 weeks, and avoiding any freeze-thawing. The first preservation week exerted the most decisive impact regarding storage temperature, i.e. 12.1% and 6.4% of the polar metabolome experienced a shift at -20 °C and at -80 °C, respectively, whereas 8.6% and 7.9% was observed to be changed significantly for the lipidome. In addition, aside from the negligible impact of aerobicity, the polar metabolome appeared to be more dependent on the storage conditions applied compared to the lipidome, which emerged as the more stable fraction when assessing the storage duration for 25 weeks. If the interest would greatly align with particular chemical classes, such as branched-chain amino acids or short-chain fatty acids, specific storage duration recommendations are reported. The provided insights on the stability of the faecal metabolome may contribute to a more reasoned design of experiments in biomarker detection or pathway elucidation within the field of faecal metabolomics.

Keywords: Faecal fingerprinting; Lipidomics; Metabolomics; Sample storage; Ultra-high performance liquid chromatography-high-resolution mass spectrometry.

MeSH terms

  • Cold Temperature
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Freeze Drying
  • Humans
  • Lipidomics / methods
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolome*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Specimen Handling*