Inter-study and time-dependent variability of metabolite abundance in cultured red blood cells

Malar J. 2021 Jul 2;20(1):299. doi: 10.1186/s12936-021-03780-5.


BACKGROUND: Cultured human red blood cells (RBCs) provide a powerful ex vivo assay platform to study blood-stage malaria infection and propagation. In recent years, high-resolution metabolomic methods have quantified hundreds of metabolites from parasite-infected RBC cultures under a variety of perturbations. In this context, the corresponding control samples of the uninfected culture systems can also be used to examine the effects of these perturbations on RBC metabolism itself and their dependence on blood donors (inter-study variations).

METHODS: Time-course datasets from five independent studies were generated and analysed, maintaining uninfected RBCs (uRBC) at 2% haematocrit for 48 h under conditions originally designed for parasite cultures. Using identical experimental protocols, quadruplicate samples were collected at six time points, and global metabolomics were employed on the pellet fraction of the uRBC cultures. In total, ~ 500 metabolites were examined across each dataset to quantify inter-study variability in RBC metabolism, and metabolic network modelling augmented the analyses to characterize the metabolic state and fluxes of the RBCs.

RESULTS: To minimize inter-study variations unrelated to RBC metabolism, an internal standard metabolite (phosphatidylethanolamine C18:0/20:4) was identified with minimal variation in abundance over time and across all the samples of each dataset to normalize the data. Although the bulk of the normalized data showed a high degree of inter-study consistency, changes and variations in metabolite levels from individual donors were noted. Thus, a total of 24 metabolites were associated with significant variation in the 48-h culture time window, with the largest variations involving metabolites in glycolysis and synthesis of glutathione. Metabolic network analysis was used to identify the production of superoxide radicals in cultured RBCs as countered by the activity of glutathione oxidoreductase and synthesis of reducing equivalents via the pentose phosphate pathway. Peptide degradation occurred at a rate that is comparable with central carbon fluxes, consistent with active degradation of methaemoglobin, processes also commonly associated with storage lesions in RBCs.

CONCLUSIONS: The bulk of the data showed high inter-study consistency. The collected data, quantification of an expected abundance variation of RBC metabolites, and characterization of a subset of highly variable metabolites in the RBCs will help in identifying non-specific changes in metabolic abundances that may obscure accurate metabolomic profiling of Plasmodium falciparum and other blood-borne pathogens.

PMID:34215262 | PMC:PMC8254254 | DOI:10.1186/s12936-021-03780-5