Cyst fluid metabolites distinguish malignant from benign pancreatic cysts

Neoplasia. 2021 Nov;23(11):1078-1088. doi: 10.1016/j.neo.2021.09.004. Epub 2021 Sep 25.


Objectives: Current standard of care imaging, cytology, or cystic fluid analysis cannot reliably differentiate malignant from benign pancreatic cystic neoplasms. This study sought to determine if the metabolic profile of cystic fluid could distinguish benign and malignant lesions, as well as mucinous and non-mucinous lesions.

Methods: Metabolic profiling by untargeted mass spectrometry and quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance was performed in 24 pancreatic cyst fluid from surgically resected samples with pathological diagnoses and clinicopathological correlation.

Results: (Iso)-butyrylcarnitine distinguished malignant from benign pancreatic cysts, with a diagnostic accuracy of 89%. (Iso)-butyrylcarnitine was 28-fold more abundant in malignant cyst fluid compared with benign cyst fluid (P=.048). Furthermore, 5-oxoproline (P=.01) differentiated mucinous from non-mucinous cysts with a diagnostic accuracy of 90%, better than glucose (82% accuracy), a previously described metabolite that distinguishes mucinous from non-mucinous cysts. Combined analysis of glucose and 5-oxoproline did not improve the diagnostic accuracy. In comparison, standard of care cyst fluid carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and cytology had a diagnostic accuracy of 40% and 60% respectively for mucinous cysts. (Iso)-butyrylcarnitine and 5-oxoproline correlated with cyst fluid CEA levels (P<.0001 and P<.05 respectively). For diagnosing malignant pancreatic cysts, the diagnostic accuracies of cyst size > 3 cm, ≥ 1 high-risk features, cyst fluid CEA, and cytology are 38%, 75%, 80%, and 75%, respectively.

Conclusions: (Iso)-butyrylcarnitine has potential clinical application for accurately distinguishing malignant from benign pancreatic cysts, and 5-oxoproline for distinguishing mucinous from non-mucinous cysts.

Keywords: 5-oxoproline; Butyrylcarnitine; Diagnosis; Metabolite; Mucinous cyst.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Mucinous / diagnosis*
  • Adenocarcinoma, Mucinous / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Cyst Fluid / metabolism*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolome*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Cyst / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Cyst / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor