Mass Spectrometric Approaches to Lipidomic Studies

Posted on January 03, 2019


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Essentially, lipidomic studies have the purpose of identifying the structure and determining the concentration of molecular species present in a sample in order to fulfill some compelling purpose. This may be studying a disease process, for example, or understanding the function of a particular enzyme.

When properly applied, lipidomic studies can offer a wealth of useful data that can turn into insight toward a lot of real-world biochemical applications.

In this tech talk, a professor and lipidomic expert discusses one type of approach toward lipidomics: using mass spectrometry to better analyze and understand lipids present in standards.

The Three Approaches toward Mass Spec Lipidomics

Robert Murphy is the University Distinguished Professor emeritus of pharmacology at the University of Colorado. He has been studying mass spectrometry of lipids for over 50 years, and as he discusses in the video, there are a lot of very interesting things you can learn from the field, particularly using mass spec techniques.

One challenge he discusses is the fact that there are seven classes of lipids, and each one has very different properties. Mass spectrometric approaches to lipidomics can help the researcher overcome this challenge by using three different approaches to gather information about molecules, identify the lipid rather specifically and have the information be quantitative.

These three approaches are:

  1. Shotgun analysis
  2. Chromatography-based spectrometry
  3. Targeted mass spectrometry

The first two processes are considered unbiased because they use a wide field of analysis to see many types of lipids, instead of focusing in on specific lipids to study. In shotgun analysis, for example, the researcher is taking a crude mixture of lipids that aren’t pre-separated.

The third method—targeted mass spectrometry—is considered biased (although all processes are biased to an extent). This is more appropriate for samples that are considered highly complex and highly dynamic, but there are not yet sophisticated automated methods to conduct such a study. In a sense, the practice is still somewhat primitive compared to other approaches.

Using Data from Spectrometric Approaches in the Lipidomic Process

Dr. Murphy goes on to explain how mass spec approaches fit into the lipidomic process.

Once a researcher has obtained the data, he or she processes it in a way that identifies the lipid and the number of lipids you are looking at, classifies them and gets data on the quality of the material present.

In order to understand the extent of biological variation, the researcher has to repeat experiments several times and apply statistics to make sure the data is valid. And when things are changing, they’re changing reproducibly.

Once the researcher has an idea of what is changing the identity of the lipids, they can enter into the biochemical part and understand the pathways that are being altered by the disease process, or the knockout, of the enzyme—whatever is being studied—so the researcher has a better understanding of the regulation of lipid biosynthesis.

The end result is better understanding of what biochemical pathways are engaged and the cellular role of lipids as well as their physiological role.

Throughout the video, Dr. Murphy explains this process further by breaking down the benefits and drawbacks of each mass spec approach and how the researcher can best utilize each one. The outcome of watching the entire video is a deeper understanding of mass spectrometric approaches when used in lipidomics, when they should be used and when other methods are preferred.

Contact Avanti for more information on obtaining high-quality lipid samples for your research.