Between metabolite relationships: an essential aspect of metabolic change

Not only the levels of individual metabolites, but also the relations between the levels of different metabolites may indicate (experimentally induced) changes in a biological system. Component analysis methods in current ‘standard’ use for metabolomics, such as Principal Component Analysis (PCA), do not focus on changes in these relations. We therefore propose the concept of ‘Between Metabolite Relationships’ (BMRs): common changes in the covariance (or correlation) between all metabolites in an organism. Such structural changes may indicate metabolic change brought about by experimental manipulation but which are lost with standard data analysis methods. These BMRs can be analysed by the INdividual Differences SCALing (INDSCAL) method. First the BMR quantification is described and subsequently the INDSCAL method. Finally, two studies illustrate the power and the applicability of BMRs in metabolomics. The first study is about the induced plant response of cabbage to herbivory, of which BMRs are a considerable part. In the second study—a human nutritional intervention study of green tea extract—standard data analysis tools did not reveal any metabolic change, although the BMRs were considerably affected. The presented results show that BMRs can be easily implemented in a wide variety of metabolomic studies. They provide a new source of information to describe biological systems in a way that fits flawlessly into the next generation of systems biology questions, dealing with personalized responses.

J.J. Jansen, E. Szymańska, H.C.J. Hoefsloot, D.M. Jacobs, K. Strassburg, A.K. Smilde
2012; 8(3): 422-432
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Date of publication: 
June, 2012
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