Objective

To identify prediagnostic plasma metabolomic biomarkers associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Methods

We conducted a global metabolomic study using a nested case-control study design within 5 prospective cohorts and identified 275 individuals who developed ALS during follow-up. We profiled plasma metabolites using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry and identified 404 known metabolites. We used conditional logistic regression to evaluate the associations between metabolites and ALS risk. Further, we used machine learning analyses to determine whether the prediagnostic metabolomic profile could discriminate ALS cases from controls.

Results

A total of 31 out of 404 identified metabolites were associated with ALS risk (p < 0.05). We observed inverse associations (n = 27) with plasma levels of diacylglycerides and triacylglycerides, urate, purine nucleosides, and some organic acids and derivatives, while we found positive associations for a cholesteryl ester, 2 phosphatidylcholines, and a sphingomyelin. The number of significant associations increased to 67 (63 inverse) in analyses restricted to cases with blood samples collected within 5 years of onset. None of these associations remained significant after multiple comparison adjustment. Further, we were not able to reliably distinguish individuals who became cases from controls based on their metabolomic profile using partial least squares discriminant analysis, elastic net regression, random forest, support vector machine, or weighted correlation network analyses.

Conclusions

Although the metabolomic profile in blood samples collected years before ALS diagnosis did not reliably separate presymptomatic ALS cases from controls, our results suggest that ALS is preceded by a broad, but poorly defined, metabolic dysregulation years before the disease onset.

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