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Anal Chem. 2013 Dec 17;85(24):12046-54. doi: 10.1021/ac403111s. Epub 2013 Nov 22.

Volume determination with two standards allows absolute quantification and improved chemometric analysis of metabolites by NMR from submicroliter samples.

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Division of Molecular Structure, Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research , The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, United Kingdom.


The accurate measurement of metabolite concentrations in miniscule biological sample volumes is often desirable, yet it remains challenging. In many cases, the starting analyte volumes are imprecisely known, or not directly measurable, and hence absolute metabolite concentrations are difficult to calculate. Here, we introduce volume determination using two standards (VDTS) as a general quantitative method for the analysis of polar metabolites in submicrolitre samples using (1)H NMR spectroscopy. This approach permits the back calculation of absolute metabolite concentrations from small biological samples of unknown volume. Where small sample volumes are also variable, VDTS can improve multivariate chemometric analysis. In this context, principal component analysis (PCA) yielded more logically consistent and biologically insightful outputs when we used volume-corrected spectra, calculated using VDTS, rather than probabilistic quotient normalization (PQN) of raw spectra. As proof-of-principle, the VDTS-based method and PCA were used to analyze polar metabolites in the hemolymph (blood) extracted from larvae of the very small but widely used genetic model organism Drosophila. This analysis showed that the hemolymph metabolomes of males and females are markedly different when larvae are well fed. However, gender-specific metabolomes tend to converge when larval dietary nutrients are restricted. We discuss the biological implications of these surprising results and compare and contrast them to previous analyses of Drosophila hemolymph and mammalian blood plasma. Together, these findings reveal an interesting and hitherto unknown sexual dimorphism in systemic Drosophila metabolites, clearly warranting further biological investigation. Importantly, the VDTS approach should be adaptable to many different analytical platforms, including mass spectrometry.

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