A gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) metabolomic approach in human colorectal cancer (CRC): the emerging role of monosaccharides and amino acids

Luigi Barberini, Angelo Restivo, Antonio Noto, Simona Deidda, Claudia Fattuoni, Vassilios Fanos, Luca Saba, Luigi Zorcolo, Michele Mussap


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) has been confirmed to be the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in males and the second in females. We investigated the blood plasma metabolome in CRC patients and in healthy adults to elucidate the role of monosaccharides, amino acids, and their respective metabolic pathways as prognostic factors in patients with CRC.
Methods: Fifteen patients with CRC and nine healthy adults were enrolled in the study and their blood plasma samples analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Univariate Student’s t-test, multivariate principal component analysis (PCA) and partial least square-discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) were conducted on MetaboAnalyst 4.0. The analysis of metabolic profiles was carried out by the web-based extension Metabolite Sets Enrichment Analysis (MSEA).
Results: Overall, 125 metabolites were identified in plasma samples by GC-MS. In CRC patient samples, nine metabolites, including D-mannose and fructose, were significantly more abundant than in controls; conversely, eleven amino derivatives were less abundant, including methionine, valine, lysine, and proline. Methionine was significantly less abundant in died patients compared with survivors. The most significantly altered metabolic pathways in CRC patients are those involving monosaccharides (primarily the catabolic pathway of fructose and D-mannose), and amino acids (primarily methionine, valine, leucine, and isoleucine).
Conclusions: The abundance of D-mannose in CRC patient samples contributes to inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, while the abundance of fructose may be consistent either with low consumption of fructose by aerobic glycolysis within cancer cells or with a high bioavailability of fructose from diet. The reduction in methionine concentration may be related to increased activity of the threonine and methionine catabolic pathways, confirmed by high levels of α-hydroxybutyrate.