Plasma metabolomics and quantitative interstitial abnormalities in ever-smokers

Respir Res. 2023 Nov 4;24(1):265. doi: 10.1186/s12931-023-02576-2.


Background: Quantitative interstitial abnormalities (QIA) are an automated computed tomography (CT) finding of early parenchymal lung disease, associated with worse lung function, reduced exercise capacity, increased respiratory symptoms, and death. The metabolomic perturbations associated with QIA are not well known. We sought to identify plasma metabolites associated with QIA in smokers. We also sought to identify shared and differentiating metabolomics features between QIA and emphysema, another smoking-related advanced radiographic abnormality.

Methods: In 928 former and current smokers in the Genetic Epidemiology of COPD cohort, we measured QIA and emphysema using an automated local density histogram method and generated metabolite profiles from plasma samples using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (Metabolon). We assessed the associations between metabolite levels and QIA using multivariable linear regression models adjusted for age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, pack-years, and inhaled corticosteroid use, at a Benjamini-Hochberg False Discovery Rate p-value of ≤ 0.05. Using multinomial regression models adjusted for these covariates, we assessed the associations between metabolite levels and the following CT phenotypes: QIA-predominant, emphysema-predominant, combined-predominant, and neither- predominant. Pathway enrichment analyses were performed using MetaboAnalyst.

Results: We found 85 metabolites significantly associated with QIA, with overrepresentation of the nicotinate and nicotinamide, histidine, starch and sucrose, pyrimidine, phosphatidylcholine, lysophospholipid, and sphingomyelin pathways. These included metabolites involved in inflammation and immune response, extracellular matrix remodeling, surfactant, and muscle cachexia. There were 75 metabolites significantly different between QIA-predominant and emphysema-predominant phenotypes, with overrepresentation of the phosphatidylethanolamine, nicotinate and nicotinamide, aminoacyl-tRNA, arginine, proline, alanine, aspartate, and glutamate pathways.

Conclusions: Metabolomic correlates may lend insight to the biologic perturbations and pathways that underlie clinically meaningful quantitative CT measurements like QIA in smokers.

Keywords: Cross-Sectional Studies; Lung Diseases, Interstitial; Metabolomics; Pulmonary Emphysema; Tomography, X-Ray Computed.

MeSH terms

  • Emphysema*
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Niacin*
  • Niacinamide
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Emphysema* / epidemiology
  • Smokers


  • Niacin
  • Niacinamide