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Urbanization in China is Associated with Pronounced Perturbation of Plasma Metabolites


Wang, Yiqing; Sha, Wei; Wang, Huijun; Howard, Annie Green; Tsilimigras, Matthew C. B.; Zhang, Jiguo; Su, Chang; Wang, Zhihong; Zhang, Bing; & Fodor, Anthony A., et al. (2020). Urbanization in China is Associated with Pronounced Perturbation of Plasma Metabolites. Metabolomics, 16(10), 103. PMCID: PMC7707273


INTRODUCTION: Urbanization is associated with major changes in environmental and lifestyle exposures that may influence metabolic signatures.
OBJECTIVES: We investigated cross-sectional urban and rural differences in plasma metabolome analyzed by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry platform in 500 Chinese adults aged 25-68 years from two neighboring southern Chinese provinces.
METHODS: We first examined the overall metabolome differences by urban and rural residential location, using Orthogonal Partial Least Squares Discriminant Analysis (OPLS-DA) and random forest classification. We then tested the association between urbanization status and individual metabolites using a linear regression adjusting for age, sex, and province and conducted pathway analysis (Fisher's exact test) to identify metabolic pathways differed by urbanization status.
RESULTS: We observed distinct overall metabolome by urbanization status in OPLS-DA and random forest classification. Using linear regression, out of a total of 1108 unique metabolite features identified in this sample, we found that 266 metabolites were differed by urbanization status (positive false discovery rate-adjusted p-value, q-value < 0.05). For example, the following metabolites were positively associated with urbanization status: caffeine metabolites from xanthine metabolism, hazardous pollutants like 4-hydroxychlorothalonil and perfluorooctanesulfonate, and metabolites implicated in cardiometabolic diseases, such as branched-chain amino acids. In pathway analysis, we found that xanthine metabolism pathways differed by urbanization status (q-value = 1.64E-04).
CONCLUSION: We detected profound differences in host metabolites by urbanization status. Urban residents were characterized by metabolites signaling caffeine metabolism and toxic pollutants and metabolites on known pathways to cardiometabolic disease risks, compared to their rural counterparts. Our findings highlight the importance of considering urbanization in metabolomics analysis.


Reference Type

Journal Article

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Journal Title



Wang, Yiqing
Sha, Wei
Wang, Huijun
Howard, Annie Green
Tsilimigras, Matthew C. B.
Zhang, Jiguo
Su, Chang
Wang, Zhihong
Zhang, Bing
Fodor, Anthony A.
Gordon-Larsen, Penny