Enhanced acylcarnitine annotation in high-resolution mass spectrometry data: Fragmentation analysis for the classification and annotation of acylcarnitines

Justin J.J. van der Hooft*, Lars Ridder, Michael P. Barrett, Karl E.V. Burgess

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metabolite annotation and identification are primary challenges in untargeted metabolomics experiments. Rigorous workflows for reliable annotation of mass features with chemical structures or compound classes are needed to enhance the power of untargeted mass spectrometry. High-resolution mass spectrometry considerably improves the confidence in assigning elemental formulas to mass features in comparison to nominal mass spectrometry, and embedding of fragmentation methods enables more reliable metabolite annotations and facilitates metabolite classification. However, the analysis of mass fragmentation spectra can be a time-consuming step and requires expert knowledge. This study demonstrates how characteristic fragmentations, specific to compound classes, can be used to systematically analyze their presence in complex biological extracts like urine that have undergone untargeted mass spectrometry combined with data dependent or targeted fragmentation. Human urine extracts were analyzed using normal phase liquid chromatography (hydrophilic interaction chromatography) coupled to an Ion Trap-Orbitrap hybrid instrument. Subsequently, mass chromatograms and collision-induced dissociation and higher-energy collisional dissociation (HCD) fragments were annotated using the freely available MAGMa software1. Acylcarnitines play a central role in energy metabolism by transporting fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix. By filtering on a combination of a mass fragment and neutral loss designed based on the MAGMa fragment annotations, we were able to classify and annotate 50 acylcarnitines in human urine extracts, based on high-resolution mass spectrometry HCD fragmentation spectra at different energies for all of them. Of these annotated acylcarnitines, 31 are not described in HMDB yet and for only 4 annotated acylcarnitines the fragmentation spectra could be matched to reference spectra. Therefore, we conclude that the use of mass fragmentation filters within the context of untargeted metabolomics experiments is a valuable tool to enhance the annotation of small metabolites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • acylcarnitines
  • classification
  • collisional fragmentation
  • high-resolution mass spectrometry
  • HILIC chromatography
  • human urine
  • metabolite annotation
  • metabolomics


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