Metabolic profiling strategy for discovery of nutritional biomarkers: Proline betaine as a marker of citrus consumption

Silke S. Heinzmann, Ian J. Brown, Queenie Chan, Magda Bictash, Marc Emmanuel Dumas, Sunil Kochhar, Jeremiah Stamler, Elaine Holmes, Paul Elliott*, Jeremy K. Nicholson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

180 Scopus citations


Background: New food biomarkers are needed to objectively evaluate the effect of diet on health and to check adherence to dietary recommendations and healthy eating patterns. Objective: We developed a strategy for food biomarker discovery, which combined nutritional intervention with metabolic phenotyping and biomarker validation in a large-scale epidemiologic study. Design: We administered a standardized diet to 8 individuals and established a putative urinary biomarker of fruit consumption by using 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopic profiling. The origin of the biomarker was confirmed by using targeted NMR spectroscopy of various fruit. Excretion kinetics of the biomarker were measured. The biomarker was validated by using urinary NMR spectra from UK participants of the INTERMAP (International Collaborative Study of Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Blood Pressure) (n = 499) in which citrus consumption was ascertained from four 24-h dietary recalls per person. Finally, dietary patterns of citrus consumers (n = 787) and nonconsumers (n = 1211) were compared. Results: We identified proline betaine as a putative biomarker of citrus consumption. High concentrations were observed only in citrus fruit. Most proline betaine was excreted ≤14 h after a firstorder excretion profile. Biomarker validation in the epidemiologic data showed a sensitivity of 86.3% for elevated proline betaine excretion in participants who reported citrus consumption and a specificity of 90.6% (P < 0.0001). In comparison with noncitrus consumers, citrus consumers had lower intakes of fats, lower urinary sodium-potassium ratios, and higher intakes of vegetable protein, fiber, and most micronutrients. Conclusion: The biomarker identification and validation strategy has the potential to identify biomarkers for healthier eating patterns associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases. The trials were registered at as NCT01102049 and NCT01102062.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-443
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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