Metabolomic Profiling Reveals Sex Specific Associations with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Emphysema

Metabolites. 2021 Mar 11;11(3):161. doi: 10.3390/metabo11030161.


Susceptibility and progression of lung disease, as well as response to treatment, often differ by sex, yet the metabolic mechanisms driving these sex-specific differences are still poorly understood. Women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have less emphysema and more small airway disease on average than men, though these differences become less pronounced with more severe airflow limitation. While small studies of targeted metabolites have identified compounds differing by sex and COPD status, the sex-specific effect of COPD on systemic metabolism has yet to be interrogated. Significant sex differences were observed in 9 of the 11 modules identified in COPDGene. Sex-specific associations by COPD status and emphysema were observed in 3 modules for each phenotype. Sex stratified individual metabolite associations with COPD demonstrated male-specific associations in sphingomyelins and female-specific associations in acyl carnitines and phosphatidylethanolamines. There was high preservation of module assignments in SPIROMICS (SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures In COPD Study) and similar female-specific shift in acyl carnitines. Several COPD associated metabolites differed by sex. Acyl carnitines and sphingomyelins demonstrate sex-specific abundances and may represent important metabolic signatures of sex differences in COPD. Accurately characterizing the sex-specific molecular differences in COPD is vital for personalized diagnostics and therapeutics.

Keywords: COPD; emphysema; lung; network analysis; sex differences; weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA).