Understanding metabolic alterations after SARS-CoV-2 infection: insights from the patients' oral microenvironmental metabolites

BMC Infect Dis. 2023 Jan 23;23(1):42. doi: 10.1186/s12879-022-07979-y.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 is a type of acute infectious pneumonia and frequently confused with influenza since the initial symptoms. When the virus colonized the patient's mouth, it will cause changes of the oral microenvironment. However, few studies on the alterations of metabolism of the oral microenvironment affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection have been reported. In this study, we explored metabolic alterations of oral microenvironment after SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Methods: Untargeted metabolomics (UPLC-MS) was used to investigate the metabolic changes between oral secretion samples of 25 COVID-19 and 30 control participants. To obtain the specific metabolic changes of COVID-19, we selected 25 influenza patients to exclude the metabolic changes caused by the stress response of the immune system to the virus. Multivariate analysis (PCA and PLS-DA plots) and univariate analysis (students' t-test) were used to compare the differences between COVID-19 patients and the controls. Online hiplot tool was used to perform heatmap analysis. Metabolic pathway analysis was conducted by using the MetaboAnalyst 5.0 web application.

Results: PLS-DA plots showed significant separation of COVID-19 patients and the controls. A total of 45 differential metabolites between COVID-19 and control group were identified. Among them, 35 metabolites were defined as SARS-CoV-2 specific differential metabolites. Especially, the levels of cis-5,8,11,14,17-eicosapentaenoic acid and hexanoic acid changed dramatically based on the FC values. Pathway enrichment found the most significant pathways were tyrosine-related metabolism. Further, we found 10 differential metabolites caused by the virus indicating the body's metabolism changes after viral stimulation. Moreover, adenine and adenosine were defined as influenza virus-specific differential metabolites.

Conclusions: This study revealed that 35 metabolites and tyrosine-related metabolism pathways were significantly changed after SARS-CoV-2 infection. The metabolic alterations of oral microenvironment in COVID-19 provided new insights into its molecular mechanisms for research and prognostic treatment.

Keywords: COVID-19; Influenza; Metabolic pathways; Metabolomics; Oral microenvironment.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Tyrosine


  • Tyrosine