Capillary Electrophoresis-Mass Spectrometry at Trial by Metabo-Ring: Effective Electrophoretic Mobility for Reproducible and Robust Compound Annotation
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Capillary zone electrophoresis-mass spectrometry (CE-MS) is a mature analytical tool for the efficient profiling of (highly) polar and ionizable compounds. However, the use of CE-MS in comparison to other separation techniques remains underrepresented in metabolomics, as this analytical approach is still perceived as technically challenging and less reproducible, notably for migration time. The latter is key for a reliable comparison of metabolic profiles and for unknown biomarker identification that is complementary to high resolution MS/MS. In this work, we present the results of a Metabo-ring trial involving 16 CE-MS platforms among 13 different laboratories spanning two continents. The goal was to assess the reproducibility and identification capability of CE-MS by employing effective electrophoretic mobility (μeff) as the key parameter in comparison to the relative migration time (RMT) approach. For this purpose, a representative cationic metabolite mixture in water, pretreated human plasma, and urine samples spiked with the same metabolite mixture were used and distributed for analysis by all laboratories. The μeff was determined for all metabolites spiked into each sample. The background electrolyte (BGE) was prepared and employed by each participating lab following the same protocol. All other parameters (capillary, interface, injection volume, voltage ramp, temperature, capillary conditioning, and rinsing procedure, etc.) were left to the discretion of the contributing laboratories. The results revealed that the reproducibility of the μeff for 20 out of the 21 model compounds was below 3.1% vs 10.9% for RMT, regardless of the huge heterogeneity in experimental conditions and platforms across the 13 laboratories. Overall, this Metabo-ring trial demonstrated that CE-MS is a viable and reproducible approach for metabolomics.