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1.  Bladder Cancer Biomarker Discovery Using Global Metabolomic Profiling of Urine 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e115870.
Bladder cancer (BCa) is a common malignancy worldwide and has a high probability of recurrence after initial diagnosis and treatment. As a result, recurrent surveillance, primarily involving repeated cystoscopies, is a critical component of post diagnosis patient management. Since cystoscopy is invasive, expensive and a possible deterrent to patient compliance with regular follow-up screening, new non-invasive technologies to aid in the detection of recurrent and/or primary bladder cancer are strongly needed. In this study, mass spectrometry based metabolomics was employed to identify biochemical signatures in human urine that differentiate bladder cancer from non-cancer controls. Over 1000 distinct compounds were measured including 587 named compounds of known chemical identity. Initial biomarker identification was conducted using a 332 subject sample set of retrospective urine samples (cohort 1), which included 66 BCa positive samples. A set of 25 candidate biomarkers was selected based on statistical significance, fold difference and metabolic pathway coverage. The 25 candidate biomarkers were tested against an independent urine sample set (cohort 2) using random forest analysis, with palmitoyl sphingomyelin, lactate, adenosine and succinate providing the strongest predictive power for differentiating cohort 2 cancer from non-cancer urines. Cohort 2 metabolite profiling revealed additional metabolites, including arachidonate, that were higher in cohort 2 cancer vs. non-cancer controls, but were below quantitation limits in the cohort 1 profiling. Metabolites related to lipid metabolism may be especially interesting biomarkers. The results suggest that urine metabolites may provide a much needed non-invasive adjunct diagnostic to cystoscopy for detection of bladder cancer and recurrent disease management.
PMCID: PMC4277370  PMID: 25541698
2.  An atlas of genetic influences on human blood metabolites 
Nature genetics  2014;46(6):543-550.
Genome-wide association scans with high-throughput metabolic profiling provide unprecedented insights into how genetic variation influences metabolism and complex disease. Here we report the most comprehensive exploration of genetic loci influencing human metabolism to date, including 7,824 adult individuals from two European population studies. We report genome-wide significant associations at 145 metabolic loci and their biochemical connectivity regarding more than 400 metabolites in human blood. We extensively characterize the resulting in vivo blueprint of metabolism in human blood by integrating it with information regarding gene expression, heritability, overlap with known drug targets, previous association with complex disorders and inborn errors of metabolism. We further developed a database and web-based resources for data mining and results visualization. Our findings contribute to a greater understanding of the role of inherited variation in blood metabolic diversity, and identify potential new opportunities for pharmacologic development and disease understanding.
PMCID: PMC4064254  PMID: 24816252
4.  Elevated sphingosine-1-phosphate promotes sickling and sickle cell disease progression 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(6):2750-2761.
Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) is a bioactive lipid that regulates multicellular functions through interactions with its receptors on cell surfaces. S1P is enriched and stored in erythrocytes; however, it is not clear whether alterations in S1P are involved in the prevalent and debilitating hemolytic disorder sickle cell disease (SCD). Here, using metabolomic screening, we found that S1P is highly elevated in the blood of mice and humans with SCD. In murine models of SCD, we demonstrated that elevated erythrocyte sphingosine kinase 1 (SPHK1) underlies sickling and disease progression by increasing S1P levels in the blood. Additionally, we observed elevated SPHK1 activity in erythrocytes and increased S1P in blood collected from patients with SCD and demonstrated a direct impact of elevated SPHK1-mediated production of S1P on sickling that was independent of S1P receptor activation in isolated erythrocytes. Together, our findings provide insights into erythrocyte pathophysiology, revealing that a SPHK1-mediated elevation of S1P contributes to sickling and promotes disease progression, and highlight potential therapeutic opportunities for SCD.
PMCID: PMC4089467  PMID: 24837436
5.  Early Metabolic Markers of the Development of Dysglycemia and Type 2 Diabetes and Their Physiological Significance 
Diabetes  2013;62(5):1730-1737.
Metabolomic screening of fasting plasma from nondiabetic subjects identified α-hydroxybutyrate (α-HB) and linoleoyl-glycerophosphocholine (L-GPC) as joint markers of insulin resistance (IR) and glucose intolerance. To test the predictivity of α-HB and L-GPC for incident dysglycemia, α-HB and L-GPC measurements were obtained in two observational cohorts, comprising 1,261 nondiabetic participants from the Relationship between Insulin Sensitivity and Cardiovascular Disease (RISC) study and 2,580 from the Botnia Prospective Study, with 3-year and 9.5-year follow-up data, respectively. In both cohorts, α-HB was a positive correlate and L-GPC a negative correlate of insulin sensitivity, with α-HB reciprocally related to indices of β-cell function derived from the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). In follow-up, α-HB was a positive predictor (adjusted odds ratios 1.25 [95% CI 1.00–1.60] and 1.26 [1.07–1.48], respectively, for each standard deviation of predictor), and L-GPC was a negative predictor (0.64 [0.48–0.85] and 0.67 [0.54–0.84]) of dysglycemia (RISC) or type 2 diabetes (Botnia), independent of familial diabetes, sex, age, BMI, and fasting glucose. Corresponding areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve were 0.791 (RISC) and 0.783 (Botnia), similar in accuracy when substituting α-HB and L-GPC with 2-h OGTT glucose concentrations. When their activity was examined, α-HB inhibited and L-GPC stimulated glucose-induced insulin release in INS-1e cells. α-HB and L-GPC are independent predictors of worsening glucose tolerance, physiologically consistent with a joint signature of IR and β-cell dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC3636608  PMID: 23160532
6.  Human metabolic individuality in biomedical and pharmaceutical research 
Nature  2011;477(7362):10.1038/nature10354.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified many risk loci for complex diseases, but effect sizes are typically small and information on the underlying biological processes is often lacking. Associations with metabolic traits as functional intermediates can overcome these problems and potentially inform individualized therapy. Here we report a comprehensive analysis of genotype-dependent metabolic phenotypes using a GWAS with non-targeted metabolomics. We identified 37 genetic loci associated with blood metabolite concentrations, of which 25 exhibit effect sizes that are unusually high for GWAS and account for 10-60% of metabolite levels per allele copy. Our associations provide new functional insights for many disease-related associations that have been reported in previous studies, including cardiovascular and kidney disorders, type 2 diabetes, cancer, gout, venous thromboembolism, and Crohn’s disease. Taken together our study advances our knowledge of the genetic basis of metabolic individuality in humans and generates many new hypotheses for biomedical and pharmaceutical research.
PMCID: PMC3832838  PMID: 21886157
7.  Mining the Unknown: A Systems Approach to Metabolite Identification Combining Genetic and Metabolic Information 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(10):e1003005.
Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) with metabolomics data linked genetic variation in the human genome to differences in individual metabolite levels. A strong relevance of this metabolic individuality for biomedical and pharmaceutical research has been reported. However, a considerable amount of the molecules currently quantified by modern metabolomics techniques are chemically unidentified. The identification of these “unknown metabolites” is still a demanding and intricate task, limiting their usability as functional markers of metabolic processes. As a consequence, previous GWAS largely ignored unknown metabolites as metabolic traits for the analysis. Here we present a systems-level approach that combines genome-wide association analysis and Gaussian graphical modeling with metabolomics to predict the identity of the unknown metabolites. We apply our method to original data of 517 metabolic traits, of which 225 are unknowns, and genotyping information on 655,658 genetic variants, measured in 1,768 human blood samples. We report previously undescribed genotype–metabotype associations for six distinct gene loci (SLC22A2, COMT, CYP3A5, CYP2C18, GBA3, UGT3A1) and one locus not related to any known gene (rs12413935). Overlaying the inferred genetic associations, metabolic networks, and knowledge-based pathway information, we derive testable hypotheses on the biochemical identities of 106 unknown metabolites. As a proof of principle, we experimentally confirm nine concrete predictions. We demonstrate the benefit of our method for the functional interpretation of previous metabolomics biomarker studies on liver detoxification, hypertension, and insulin resistance. Our approach is generic in nature and can be directly transferred to metabolomics data from different experimental platforms.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies on metabolomics data have demonstrated that genetic variation in metabolic enzymes and transporters leads to concentration changes in the respective metabolite levels. The conventional goal of these studies is the detection of novel interactions between the genome and the metabolic system, providing valuable insights for both basic research as well as clinical applications. In this study, we borrow the metabolomics GWAS concept for a novel, entirely different purpose. Metabolite measurements frequently produce signals where a certain substance can be reliably detected in the sample, but it has not yet been elucidated which specific metabolite this signal actually represents. The concept is comparable to a fingerprint: each one is uniquely identifiable, but as long as it is not registered in a database one cannot tell to whom this fingerprint belongs. Obviously, this issue tremendously reduces the usability of a metabolomics analyses. The genetic associations of such an “unknown,” however, give us concrete evidence of the metabolic pathway this substance is most probably involved in. Moreover, we complement the approach with a specific measure of correlation between metabolites, providing further evidence of the metabolic processes of the unknown. For a number of cases, this even allows for a concrete identity prediction, which we then experimentally validate in the lab.
PMCID: PMC3475673  PMID: 23093944
8.  Cancer detection and biopsy classification using concurrent histopathological and metabolomic analysis of core biopsies 
Genome Medicine  2012;4(4):33.
Metabolomics, the non-targeted interrogation of small molecules in a biological sample, is an ideal technology for identifying diagnostic biomarkers. Current tissue extraction protocols involve sample destruction, precluding additional uses of the tissue. This is particularly problematic for high value samples with limited availability, such as clinical tumor biopsies that require structural preservation to histologically diagnose and gauge cancer aggressiveness. To overcome this limitation and increase the amount of information obtained from patient biopsies, we developed and characterized a workflow to perform metabolomic analysis and histological evaluation on the same biopsy sample.
Biopsies of ten human tissues (muscle, adrenal gland, colon, lung, pancreas, small intestine, spleen, stomach, prostate, kidney) were placed directly in a methanol solution to recover metabolites, precipitate proteins, and fix tissue. Following incubation, biopsies were removed from the solution and processed for histology. Kidney and prostate cancer tumor and benign biopsies were stained with hemotoxylin and eosin and prostate biopsies were subjected to PIN-4 immunohistochemistry. The methanolic extracts were analyzed for metabolites on GC/MS and LC/MS platforms. Raw mass spectrometry data files were automatically extracted using an informatics system that includes peak identification and metabolite identification software.
Metabolites across all major biochemical classes (amino acids, peptides, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleotides, cofactors, xenobiotics) were measured. The number (ranging from 260 in prostate to 340 in colon) and identity of metabolites were comparable to results obtained with the current method requiring 30 mg ground tissue. Comparing relative levels of metabolites, cancer tumor from benign kidney and prostate biopsies could be distinguished. Successful histopathological analysis of biopsies by chemical staining (hematoxylin, eosin) and antibody binding (PIN-4, in prostate) showed cellular architecture and immunoreactivity were retained.
Concurrent metabolite extraction and histological analysis of intact biopsies is amenable to the clinical workflow. Methanol fixation effectively preserves a wide range of tissues and is compatible with chemical staining and immunohistochemistry. The method offers an opportunity to augment histopathological diagnosis and tumor classification with quantitative measures of biochemicals in the same tissue sample. Since certain biochemicals have been shown to correlate with disease aggressiveness, this method should prove valuable as an adjunct to differentiate cancer aggressiveness.
PMCID: PMC3446261  PMID: 22546470
9.  Metabolic Footprint of Diabetes: A Multiplatform Metabolomics Study in an Epidemiological Setting 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13953.
Metabolomics is the rapidly evolving field of the comprehensive measurement of ideally all endogenous metabolites in a biological fluid. However, no single analytic technique covers the entire spectrum of the human metabolome. Here we present results from a multiplatform study, in which we investigate what kind of results can presently be obtained in the field of diabetes research when combining metabolomics data collected on a complementary set of analytical platforms in the framework of an epidemiological study.
Methodology/Principal Findings
40 individuals with self-reported diabetes and 60 controls (male, over 54 years) were randomly selected from the participants of the population-based KORA (Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg) study, representing an extensively phenotyped sample of the general German population. Concentrations of over 420 unique small molecules were determined in overnight-fasting blood using three different techniques, covering nuclear magnetic resonance and tandem mass spectrometry. Known biomarkers of diabetes could be replicated by this multiple metabolomic platform approach, including sugar metabolites (1,5-anhydroglucoitol), ketone bodies (3-hydroxybutyrate), and branched chain amino acids. In some cases, diabetes-related medication can be detected (pioglitazone, salicylic acid).
Our study depicts the promising potential of metabolomics in diabetes research by identification of a series of known and also novel, deregulated metabolites that associate with diabetes. Key observations include perturbations of metabolic pathways linked to kidney dysfunction (3-indoxyl sulfate), lipid metabolism (glycerophospholipids, free fatty acids), and interaction with the gut microflora (bile acids). Our study suggests that metabolic markers hold the potential to detect diabetes-related complications already under sub-clinical conditions in the general population.
PMCID: PMC2978704  PMID: 21085649
10.  Metabolomic Profiling Reveals Biochemical Pathways and Biomarkers Associated with Pathogenesis in Cystic Fibrosis Cells* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2010;285(40):30516-30522.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-shortening disease caused by a mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. To gain an understanding of the epithelial dysfunction associated with CF mutations and discover biomarkers for therapeutics development, untargeted metabolomic analysis was performed on primary human airway epithelial cell cultures from three separate cohorts of CF patients and non-CF subjects. Statistical analysis revealed a set of reproducible and significant metabolic differences between the CF and non-CF cells. Aside from changes that were consistent with known CF effects, such as diminished cellular regulation against oxidative stress and osmotic stress, new observations on the cellular metabolism in the disease were generated. In the CF cells, the levels of various purine nucleotides, which may function to regulate cellular responses via purinergic signaling, were significantly decreased. Furthermore, CF cells exhibited reduced glucose metabolism in glycolysis, pentose phosphate pathway, and sorbitol pathway, which may further exacerbate oxidative stress and limit the epithelial cell response to environmental pressure. Taken together, these findings reveal novel metabolic abnormalities associated with the CF pathological process and identify a panel of potential biomarkers for therapeutic development using this model system.
PMCID: PMC2945545  PMID: 20675369
Cystic Fibrosis; Energy Metabolism; Metabolomics; Oxidative Stress; Purine
11.  Ethylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether–Induced Toxicity Is Mediated through the Inhibition of Flavoprotein Dehydrogenase Enzyme Family 
Toxicological Sciences  2010;118(2):643-652.
Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether (EGME) is a widely used industrial solvent known to cause adverse effects to human and other mammals. Organs with high metabolism and rapid cell division, such as testes, are especially sensitive to its actions. In order to gain mechanistic understanding of EGME-induced toxicity, an untargeted metabolomic analysis was performed in rats. Male rats were administrated with EGME at 30 and 100 mg/kg/day. At days 1, 4, and 14, serum, urine, liver, and testes were collected for analysis. Testicular injury was observed at day 14 of the 100 mg/kg/day group only. Nearly 1900 metabolites across the four matrices were profiled using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Statistical analysis indicated that the most significant metabolic perturbations initiated from the early time points by EGME were the inhibition of choline oxidation, branched-chain amino acid catabolism, and fatty acid β-oxidation pathways, leading to the accumulation of sarcosine, dimethylglycine, and various carnitine- and glycine-conjugated metabolites. Pathway mapping of these altered metabolites revealed that all the disrupted steps were catalyzed by enzymes in the primary flavoprotein dehydrogenase family, suggesting that inhibition of flavoprotein dehydrogenase–catalyzed reactions may represent the mode of action for EGME-induced toxicity. Similar urinary and serum metabolite signatures are known to be the hallmarks of multiple acyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency in humans, a genetic disorder because of defects in primary flavoprotein dehydrogenase reactions. We postulate that disruption of key biochemical pathways utilizing flavoprotein dehydrogenases in conjugation with downstream metabolic perturbations collectively result in the EGME-induced tissue damage.
PMCID: PMC2984528  PMID: 20616209
metabolomics; ethylene glycol monomethyl ether; mode of action
12.  α-Hydroxybutyrate Is an Early Biomarker of Insulin Resistance and Glucose Intolerance in a Nondiabetic Population 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10883.
Insulin resistance is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease progression. Current diagnostic tests, such as glycemic indicators, have limitations in the early detection of insulin resistant individuals. We searched for novel biomarkers identifying these at-risk subjects.
Using mass spectrometry, non-targeted biochemical profiling was conducted in a cohort of 399 nondiabetic subjects representing a broad spectrum of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance (based on the hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp and oral glucose tolerance testing, respectively).
Random forest statistical analysis selected α-hydroxybutyrate (α–HB) as the top-ranked biochemical for separating insulin resistant (lower third of the clamp-derived MFFM = 33 [12] µmol·min−1·kgFFM−1, median [interquartile range], n = 140) from insulin sensitive subjects (MFFM = 66 [23] µmol·min−1·kgFFM−1) with a 76% accuracy. By targeted isotope dilution assay, plasma α–HB concentrations were reciprocally related to MFFM; and by partition analysis, an α–HB value of 5 µg/ml was found to best separate insulin resistant from insulin sensitive subjects. α–HB also separated subjects with normal glucose tolerance from those with impaired fasting glycemia or impaired glucose tolerance independently of, and in an additive fashion to, insulin resistance. These associations were also independent of sex, age and BMI. Other metabolites from this global analysis that significantly correlated to insulin sensitivity included certain organic acid, amino acid, lysophospholipid, acylcarnitine and fatty acid species. Several metabolites are intermediates related to α-HB metabolism and biosynthesis.
α–hydroxybutyrate is an early marker for both insulin resistance and impaired glucose regulation. The underlying biochemical mechanisms may involve increased lipid oxidation and oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC2878333  PMID: 20526369

Results 1-12 (12)