Monitoring one-carbon metabolism by mass spectrometry to assess liver function and disease
Precision medicine promises to overcome the constraints of the traditional one-for-all healthcare approach through a clear understanding of the molecular features of a disease, allowing for innovative and tailored treatments. State-of-the-art proteomics has the potential to accurately explore the human proteome to identify, quantify, and characterize proteins associated with disease progression. There is a pressing need for informative biomarkers to diagnose liver disease early in its course to prevent severe disease for which no efficient treatment is yet available. Here, we propose the concept of a cellular pathway as a functional biomarker, whose monitorization may inform normal and pathological status. We have developed a standardized targeted selected-reaction monitoring assay to detect and quantify 13 enzymes of one-carbon metabolism (1CM). The assay is compliant with Clinical Proteomics Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) guidelines and has been included in the protein quantification assays that can be accessed through the assay portal at the CPTAC web page. To test the feasibility of the assay, we conducted a retrospective, proof-of-concept study on a collection of liver samples from healthy controls and from patients with cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our results indicate a significant reconfiguration of 1CM upon HCC development resulting from a process that can already be identified in cirrhosis. Our findings indicate that the systematic and integrated quantification of 1CM enzymes is a promising cell function-based biomarker for patient stratification, although further experiments with larger cohorts are needed to confirm these findings.