Serum phosphatidylethanolamine levels distinguish benign from malignant solitary pulmonary nodules and represent a potential diagnostic biomarker for lung cancer.


Recent computed tomography (CT) screening trials showed that it is effective for early detection of lung cancer, but were plagued by high false positive rates. Additional blood biomarker tests designed to complement CT screening and reduce false positive rates are highly desirable.

Identify blood-based metabolite biomarkers for diagnosing lung cancer.

Serum samples from subjects participating in a CT screening trial were analyzed using untargeted GC-TOFMS and HILIC-qTOFMS-based metabolomics. Samples were acquired prior to diagnosis (pre-diagnostic, n= 17), at-diagnosis (n= 25) and post-diagnosis (n= 19) of lung cancer and from subjects with benign nodules (n= 29).

Univariate analysis identified 40, 102 and 30 features which were significantly different between subjects with malignant (pre-, at- and post-diagnosis) solitary pulmonary nodules (SPNs) and benign SPNs, respectively. Ten metabolites were consistently different between subjects presenting malignant (pre- and at-diagnosis) or benign SPNs. Three of these 10 metabolites were phosphatidylethanolamines (PE) suggesting alterations in lipid metabolism. Accuracies of 77%, 83% and 78% in the pre-diagnosis group and 69%, 71% and 67% in the at-diagnosis group were determined for PE(34:2), PE(36:2) and PE(38:4), respectively.

This study demonstrates evidence of early metabolic alterations that can possibly distinguish malignant from benign SPNs. Further studies in larger pools of samples are warranted.

  • DeFelice BC
  • Fahrmann JF
  • Fiehn O
  • Grapov D
  • Kelly K
  • Kim K
  • Miyamoto S
  • Pass H
  • Rom WN
  • Taylor S
  • Wikoff WR
PubMed ID
Appears In
Cancer Biomark, 2016, 16 (4)