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An untargeted metabolomics method for archived newborn dried blood spots in epidemiologic studies



For pediatric diseases like childhood leukemia, a short latency period points to in-utero exposures as potentially important risk factors. Untargeted metabolomics of small molecules in archived newborn dried blood spots (DBS) offers an avenue for discovering early-life exposures that contribute to disease risks.


The purpose of this study was to develop a quantitative method for untargeted analysis of archived newborn DBS for use in an epidemiological study (California Childhood Leukemia Study, CCLS).


Using experimental DBS from the blood of an adult volunteer, we optimized extraction of small molecules and integrated measurement of potassium as a proxy for blood hematocrit. We then applied this extraction method to 4.7-mm punches from 106 control DBS samples from the CCLS. Sample extracts were analyzed with liquid chromatography high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS) and an untargeted workflow was used to screen for metabolites that discriminate population characteristics such as sex, ethnicity, and birth weight.


Thousands of small molecules were measured in extracts of archived DBS. Normalizing for potassium levels removed variability related to varying hematocrit across DBS punches. Of the roughly 1,000 prevalent small molecules that were tested, multivariate linear regression detected significant associations with ethnicity (3 metabolites) and birth weight (15 metabolites) after adjusting for multiple testing.


This untargeted workflow can be used for analysis of small molecules in archived DBS to discover novel biomarkers, to provide insights into the initiation and progression of diseases, and to provide guidance for disease prevention.

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