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Dietary exposure biomarker-lead discovery based on metabolomics analysis of urine samples

  • Manfred Beckmann (a1), Amanda J. Lloyd (a1), Sumanto Haldar (a2), Gaëlle Favé (a3), Chris J. Seal (a2), Kirsten Brandt (a2), John C. Mathers (a3) and John Draper (a1)...


Although robust associations between dietary intake and population health are evident from conventional observational epidemiology, the outcomes of large-scale intervention studies testing the causality of those links have often proved inconclusive or have failed to demonstrate causality. This apparent conflict may be due to the well-recognised difficulty in measuring habitual food intake which may lead to confounding in observational epidemiology. Urine biomarkers indicative of exposure to specific foods offer information supplementary to the reliance on dietary intake self-assessment tools, such as FFQ, which are subject to individual bias. Biomarker discovery strategies using non-targeted metabolomics have been used recently to analyse urine from either short-term food intervention studies or from cohort studies in which participants consumed a freely-chosen diet. In the latter, the analysis of diet diary or FFQ information allowed classification of individuals in terms of the frequency of consumption of specific diet constituents. We review these approaches for biomarker discovery and illustrate both with particular reference to two studies carried out by the authors using approaches combining metabolite fingerprinting by MS with supervised multivariate data analysis. In both approaches, urine signals responsible for distinguishing between specific foods were identified and could be related to the chemical composition of the original foods. When using dietary data, both food distinctiveness and consumption frequency influenced whether differential dietary exposure could be discriminated adequately. We conclude that metabolomics methods for fingerprinting or profiling of overnight void urine, in particular, provide a robust strategy for dietary exposure biomarker-lead discovery.

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Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: J. Draper, fax +44 (0) 1970 621981, email


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