Combining a nontargeted and targeted metabolomics approach to identify metabolic pathways significantly altered in polycystic ovary syndrome

Alice Y. Chang, Antigoni Z. Lalia, Gregory D. Jenkins, Tumpa Dutta, Rickey E. Carter, Ravinder J. Singh, K. Sreekumaran Nair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Objective Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition of androgen excess and chronic anovulation frequently associated with insulin resistance. We combined a nontargeted and targeted metabolomics approach to identify pathways and metabolites that distinguished PCOS from metabolic syndrome (MetS). Methods Twenty obese women with PCOS were compared with 18 obese women without PCOS. Both groups met criteria for MetS but could not have diabetes mellitus or take medications that treat PCOS or affect lipids or insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity was derived from the frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test. A nontargeted metabolomics approach was performed on fasting plasma samples to identify differentially expressed metabolites, which were further evaluated by principal component and pathway enrichment analysis. Quantitative targeted metabolomics was then applied on candidate metabolites. Measured metabolites were tested for associations with PCOS and clinical variables by logistic and linear regression analyses. Results This multiethnic, obese sample was matched by age (PCOS, 37 ± 6; MetS, 40 ± 6 years) and body mass index (BMI) (PCOS, 34.6 ± 5.1; MetS, 33.7 ± 5.2 kg/m2). Principal component analysis of the nontargeted metabolomics data showed distinct group separation of PCOS from MetS controls. From the subset of 385 differentially expressed metabolites, 22% were identified by accurate mass, resulting in 19 canonical pathways significantly altered in PCOS, including amino acid, lipid, steroid, carbohydrate, and vitamin D metabolism. Targeted metabolomics identified many essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) that were elevated in PCOS compared with MetS. PCOS was most associated with BCAA (P = .02), essential amino acids (P = .03), the essential amino acid lysine (P = .02), and the lysine metabolite α-aminoadipic acid (P = .02) in models adjusted for surrogate variables representing technical variation in metabolites. No significant differences between groups were observed in concentrations of free fatty acids or vitamin D metabolites. Evaluation of the relationship of metabolites with clinical characteristics showed 1) negative associations of essential and BCAA with insulin sensitivity and sex hormone-binding globulin and 2) positive associations with homeostasis model of insulin resistance and free testosterone; metabolites were not associated with BMI or percent body fat. Conclusions PCOS was associated with significant metabolic alterations not attributed exclusively to androgen-related pathways, obesity, or MetS. Concentrations of essential amino acids and BCAA are increased in PCOS, which might result from or contribute to their insulin resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-63
Number of pages12
JournalMetabolism: Clinical and Experimental
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Branched-chain amino acids
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Vitamin D
  • α-Aminoadipic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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