Human plasma and serum are widely used matrices in clinical and biological studies. However, different collecting procedures and the coagulation cascade influence concentrations of both proteins and metabolites in these matrices. The effects on metabolite concentration profiles have not been fully characterized.
We analyzed the concentrations of 163 metabolites in plasma and serum samples collected simultaneously from 377 fasting individuals. To ensure data quality, 41 metabolites with low measurement stability were excluded from further analysis. In addition, plasma and corresponding serum samples from 83 individuals were re-measured in the same plates and mean correlation coefficients (r) of all metabolites between the duplicates were 0.83 and 0.80 in plasma and serum, respectively, indicating significantly better stability of plasma compared to serum (p=0.01). Metabolite profiles from plasma and serum were clearly distinct with 104 metabolites showing significantly higher concentrations in serum. In particular, 9 metabolites showed relative concentration differences larger than 20%. Despite differences in absolute concentration between the two matrices, for most metabolites the overall correlation was high (mean r=0.81±0.10), which reflects a proportional change in concentration. Furthermore, when two groups of individuals with different phenotypes were compared with each other using both matrices, more metabolites with significantly different concentrations could be identified in serum than in plasma. For example, when 51 type 2 diabetes (T2D) patients were compared with 326 non-T2D individuals, 15 more significantly different metabolites were found in serum, in addition to the 25 common to both matrices.
Our study shows that reproducibility was good in both plasma and serum, and better in plasma. Furthermore, as long as the same blood preparation procedure is used, either matrix should generate similar results in clinical and biological studies. The higher metabolite concentrations in serum, however, make it possible to provide more sensitive results in biomarker detection.