A Cross-Platform Metabolomics Comparison Identifies Serum Metabolite Signatures of Liver Fibrosis Progression in Chronic Hepatitis C Patients

Front Mol Biosci. 2021 Aug 3;8:676349. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.676349. eCollection 2021.


Metabolomics offers new insights into disease mechanisms that is enhanced when adopting orthogonal instrumental platforms to expand metabolome coverage, while also reducing false discoveries by independent replication. Herein, we report the first inter-method comparison when using multisegment injection-capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry (MSI-CE-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy for characterizing the serum metabolome of patients with liver fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection (n = 20) and non-HCV controls (n = 14). In this study, 60 and 30 serum metabolites were detected frequently (>75%) with good technical precision (median CV < 10%) from serum filtrate samples (n = 34) when using standardized protocols for MSI-CE-MS and NMR, respectively. Also, 20 serum metabolite concentrations were consistently measured by both methods over a 500-fold concentration range with an overall mean bias of 9.5% (n = 660). Multivariate and univariate statistical analyses independently confirmed that serum choline and histidine were consistently elevated (p < 0.05) in HCV patients with late-stage (F2-F4) as compared to early-stage (F0-F1) liver fibrosis. Overall, the ratio of serum choline to uric acid provided optimal differentiation of liver disease severity (AUC = 0.848, p = 0.00766) using a receiver operating characteristic curve, which was positively correlated with liver stiffness measurements by ultrasound imaging (r = 0.606, p = 0.0047). Moreover, serum 5-oxo-proline concentrations were higher in HCV patients as compared to non-HCV controls (F = 4.29, p = 0.0240) after adjustment for covariates (age, sex, BMI), indicative of elevated oxidative stress from glutathione depletion with the onset and progression of liver fibrosis. Both instrumental techniques enable rapid yet reliable quantification of serum metabolites in large-scale metabolomic studies with good overlap for biomarker replication. Advantages of MSI-CE-MS include greater metabolome coverage, lower operating costs, and smaller sample volume requirements, whereas NMR offers a robust platform supported by automated spectral and data processing software.

Keywords: biomarkers; capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry; hepatitis C virus infection; liver fibrosis; metabolomics (OMICS); nuclear magnetic resonance; serum.