Normalization of Samples of Limited Amounts in Quantitative Metabolomics Using Liquid Chromatography Fluorescence Detection with Dansyl Labeling of Metabolites

Anal Chem. 2021 Feb 23;93(7):3418-3425. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.0c04508. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


Quantitative metabolomics requires the analysis of the same or a very similar amount of samples in order to accurately determine the concentration differences of individual metabolites in comparative samples. Ideally, the total amount or concentration of metabolites in each sample is measured to normalize all the analyzed samples. In this work, we describe a very sensitive method to measure a subclass of metabolites as a surrogate quantifier for normalization of samples with limited amounts. This method starts with low-volume dansyl labeling of all metabolites containing a primary/secondary amine or phenol group in a sample to produce a final solution of 21 μL. The dansyl-labeled metabolites generate fluorescence signals at 520 nm with photoexcitation at 250 nm. To remove the interference of dansyl hydroxyl products (Dns-OH) formed from the labeling reagents used, a fast-gradient liquid chromatography separation is used to elute Dns-OH using aqueous solution, followed by organic solvent elution to produce a chromatographic peak of labeled metabolites, giving a measurement throughput of 6 min per sample. The integrated fluorescence signals of the peak are found to be related to the injection amount of the dansyl-labeled metabolites. A calibration curve using mixtures of dansyl-labeled amino acids is used to determine the total concentration of labeled metabolites in a sample. This concentration is used for normalization of samples in the range from 2 to 120 μM in 21 μL with only 1 μL consumed for fluorescence quantification (i.e., 2-120 pmol). We demonstrate the application of this sensitive sample normalization method in comparative metabolome analysis of human cancer cells, MCF-7 cells, treated with and without resveratrol, using a starting material of as low as 500 cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amines
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Dansyl Compounds
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Metabolome*
  • Metabolomics*


  • Amines
  • Dansyl Compounds