Virtual Quantification of Metabolites by Capillary Electrophoresis-Electrospray Ionization-Mass Spectrometry: Predicting Ionization Efficiency Without Chemical Standards
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A major obstacle in metabolomics remains the identification and quantification of a large fraction of unknown metabolites in complex biological samples when purified standards are unavailable. Herein we introduce a multivariate strategy for de novo quantification of cationic/zwitterionic metabolites using capillary electrophoresis-electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (CE-ESI-MS) based on fundamental molecular, thermodynamic, and electrokinetic properties of an ion. Multivariate calibration was used to derive a quantitative relationship between the measured relative response factor (RRF) of polar metabolites with respect to four physicochemical properties associated with ion evaporation in ESI-MS, namely, molecular volume (MV), octanol-water distribution coefficient (log D), absolute mobility (mu(o)), and effective charge (z(eff)). Our studies revealed that a limited set of intrinsic solute properties can be used to predict the RRF of various classes of metabolites (e.g., amino acids, amines, peptides, acylcarnitines, nucleosides, etc.) with reasonable accuracy and robustness provided that an appropriate training set is validated and ion responses are normalized to an internal standard(s). The applicability of the multivariate model to quantify micromolar levels of metabolites spiked in red blood cell (RBC) lysates was also examined by CE-ESI-MS without significant matrix effects caused by involatile salts and/or major co-ion interferences. This work demonstrates the feasibility for virtual quantification of low-abundance metabolites and their isomers in real-world samples using physicochemical properties estimated by computer modeling, while providing deeper insight into the wide disparity of solute responses in ESI-MS. New strategies for predicting ionization efficiency in silico allow for rapid and semiquantitative analysis of newly discovered biomarkers and/or drug metabolites in metabolomics research when chemical standards do not exist.
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