Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Toxicology and Cancer Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Hunter N. B. Moseley


Metabolomics is the global study of small molecules in living systems under a given state, merging as a new ‘omics’ study in systems biology. It has shown great promise in elucidating biological mechanism in various areas. Many diseases, especially cancers, are closely linked to reprogrammed metabolism. As the end point of biological processes, metabolic profiles are more representative of the biological phenotype compared to genomic or proteomic profiles. Therefore, characterizing metabolic phenotype of various diseases will help clarify the metabolic mechanisms and promote the development of novel and effective treatment strategies.

Advances in analytical technologies such as nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectroscopy greatly contribute to the detection and characterization of global metabolites in a biological system. Furthermore, application of these analytical tools to stable isotope resolved metabolomics experiments can generate large-scale high-quality metabolomics data containing isotopic flow through cellular metabolism. However, the lack of the corresponding computational analysis tools hinders the characterization of metabolic phenotypes and the downstream applications.

Both detailed metabolic modeling and quantitative analysis are required for proper interpretation of these complex metabolomics data. For metabolic modeling, currently there is no comprehensive metabolic network at an atom-resolved level that can be used for deriving context-specific metabolic models for SIRM metabolomics datasets. For quantitative analysis, most available tools conduct metabolic flux analysis based on a well-defined metabolic model, which is hard to achieve for complex biological system due to the limitations in our knowledge.

Here, we developed a set of methods to address these problems. First, we developed a neighborhood-specific coloring method that can create identifier for each atom in a specific compound. With the atom identifiers, we successfully harmonized compounds and reactions across KEGG and MetaCyc databases at various levels. In addition, we evaluated the atom mappings of the harmonized metabolic reactions. These results will contribute to the construction of a comprehensive atom-resolved metabolic network. In addition, this method can be easily applied to any metabolic database that provides a molfile representation of compounds, which will greatly facilitate future expansion. In addition, we developed a moiety modeling framework to deconvolute metabolite isotopologue profiles using moiety models along with the analysis and selection of the best moiety model(s) based on the experimental data. To our knowledge, this is the first method that can analyze datasets involving multiple isotope tracers. Furthermore, instead of a single predefined metabolic model, this method allows the comparison of multiple metabolic models derived from a given metabolic profile, and we have demonstrated the robust performance of the moiety modeling framework in model selection with a 13C-labeled UDP-GlcNAc isotopologue dataset. We further explored the data quality requirements and the factors that affect model selection. Collectively, these methods and tools help interpret SIRM metabolomics datasets from metabolic modeling to quantitative analysis.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation (no.: 1419282) in 2013 and National Science Foundation (no.: 2020026) in 2020. (564 kB)
Supplementary files