Unknown Metabolite Identification Using Machine Learning Collision Cross-Section Prediction and Tandem Mass Spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2023 Jan 17;95(2):1047-1056. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.2c03749. Epub 2023 Jan 3.


Ion mobility (IM) spectrometry provides semiorthogonal data to mass spectrometry (MS), showing promise for identifying unknown metabolites in complex non-targeted metabolomics data sets. While current literature has showcased IM-MS for identifying unknowns under near ideal circumstances, less work has been conducted to evaluate the performance of this approach in metabolomics studies involving highly complex samples with difficult matrices. Here, we present a workflow incorporating de novo molecular formula annotation and MS/MS structure elucidation using SIRIUS 4 with experimental IM collision cross-section (CCS) measurements and machine learning CCS predictions to identify differential unknown metabolites in mutant strains of Caenorhabditis elegans. For many of those ion features, this workflow enabled the successful filtering of candidate structures generated by in silico MS/MS predictions, though in some cases, annotations were challenged by significant hurdles in instrumentation performance and data analysis. While for 37% of differential features we were able to successfully collect both MS/MS and CCS data, fewer than half of these features benefited from a reduction in the number of possible candidate structures using CCS filtering due to poor matching of the machine learning training sets, limited accuracy of experimental and predicted CCS values, and lack of candidate structures resulting from the MS/MS data. When using a CCS error cutoff of ±3%, on average, 28% of candidate structures could be successfully filtered. Herein, we identify and describe the bottlenecks and limitations associated with the identification of unknowns in non-targeted metabolomics using IM-MS to focus and provide insights into areas requiring further improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Ion Mobility Spectrometry / methods
  • Machine Learning
  • Metabolomics* / methods
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry*