Gut microbiota and their metabolic products are increasingly being recognized as important modulators of human health. The fecal metabolome provides a functional readout of the interactions between human metabolism and the gut microbiota in health and disease. Due to the high complexity of the fecal matrix, sample preparation often introduces technical variation, which must be minimized to accurately detect and quantify gut bacterial metabolites. Here, we tested six different representative extraction methods (single-phase and liquid-liquid extractions) and compared differences due to fecal amount, extraction solvent type and solvent pH. Our results indicate that a minimum fecal (wet) amount of 0.50 g is needed to accurately represent the complex texture of feces. The MTBE method (MTBE/methanol/water, 3.6/2.8/3.5, v/v/v) outperformed the other extraction methods, reflected by the highest extraction efficiency for 11 different classes of compounds, the highest number of extracted features (97% of the total identified features in different extracts), repeatability (CV < 35%) and extraction recovery (≥70%). Importantly, optimization of the solvent volume of each step to the initial dried fecal material (µL/mg feces) offers a major step towards standardization, which enables confident assessment of the contributions of gut bacterial metabolites to human health.
Keywords: LCMS (liquid chromatography mass spectrometry); fecal metabolites; gut microbiota; metabolomics; sample preparation.