Untargeted metabolomics as an unbiased approach to the diagnosis of inborn errors of metabolism of the non-oxidative branch of the pentose phosphate pathway

Brian J. Shayota, Taraka R. Donti, Jing Xiao, Charul Gijavanekar, Adam D. Kennedy, Leroy Hubert, Lance Rodan, Christina Vanderpluym, Catherine Nowak, Hans T. Bjornsson, Rebecca Ganetzky, Gerard T. Berry, Kirk L. Pappan, V. Reid Sutton, Qin Sun, Sarah H. Elsea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inborn errors of metabolism (IEM) involving the non-oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) include the two relatively rare conditions, transketolase deficiency and transaldolase deficiency, both of which can be difficult to diagnosis given their non-specific clinical presentations. Current biochemical testing approaches require an index of suspicion to consider targeted urine polyol testing. To determine whether a broad-spectrum biochemical test could accurately identify a specific metabolic pattern defining IEMs of the non-oxidative PPP, we employed the use of clinical metabolomic profiling as an unbiased novel approach to diagnosis. Subjects with molecularly confirmed IEMs of the PPP were included in this study. Targeted quantitative analysis of polyols in urine and plasma samples was accomplished with chromatography and mass spectrometry. Semi-quantitative unbiased metabolomic analysis of urine and plasma samples was achieved by assessing small molecules via liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectrometry. Results from untargeted and targeted analyses were then compared and analyzed for diagnostic acuity. Two siblings with transketolase (TKT) deficiency and three unrelated individuals with transaldolase (TALDO) deficiency were identified for inclusion in the study. For both IEMs, targeted polyol testing and untargeted metabolomic testing on urine and/or plasma samples identified typical perturbations of the respective disorder. Additionally, untargeted metabolomic testing revealed elevations in other PPP metabolites not typically measured with targeted polyol testing, including ribonate, ribose, and erythronate for TKT deficiency and ribonate, erythronate, and sedoheptulose 7-phosphate in TALDO deficiency. Non-PPP alternations were also noted involving tryptophan, purine, and pyrimidine metabolism for both TKT and TALDO deficient patients. Targeted polyol testing and untargeted metabolomic testing methods were both able to identify specific biochemical patterns indicative of TKT and TALDO deficiency in both plasma and urine samples. In addition, untargeted metabolomics was able to identify novel biomarkers, thereby expanding the current knowledge of both conditions and providing further insight into potential underlying pathophysiological mechanisms. Furthermore, untargeted metabolomic testing offers the advantage of having a single effective biochemical screening test for identification of rare IEMs, like TKT and TALDO deficiencies, that may otherwise go undiagnosed due to their generally non-specific clinical presentations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-154
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular genetics and metabolism
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Developmental delay
  • Inborn error of metabolism
  • Metabolome
  • Pentose phosphate pathway
  • Transaldolase deficiency
  • Transketolase deficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology


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