Baylor Genetics Featured in The Journal of the American Medical Association for Research on Metabolic Disorders in Newborns

Comparison of Untargeted Metabolomic Profiling vs Traditional Metabolic Screening to Identify Inborn Errors of Metabolism

Ning Liu, Jing Xiao, Charul Gijavanekar, Kirk L. Pappan, Kevin E. Glinton, Brian J. Shayota, Adam D. Kennedy, Qin Sun, V. Reid Sutton, Sarah H. Elsea

Published: July 12, 2021 



Recent advances in newborn screening (NBS) have improved the diagnosis of inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs); however, many potentially treatable IEMs are not included on NBS panels, nor are they covered in standard, first-line biochemical testing.


To examine the utility of untargeted metabolomics as a primary screening tool for IEMs by comparing the diagnostic rate of clinical metabolomics with the recommended traditional metabolic screening approach.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This cross-sectional study compares data from 4464 clinical samples received from 1483 unrelated families referred for trio testing of plasma amino acids, plasma acylcarnitine profiling, and urine organic acids (June 2014 to October 2018) and 2000 consecutive plasma samples from 1807 unrelated families (July 2014 to February 2019) received for clinical metabolomic screening at a College of American Pathologists and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments–certified biochemical genetics laboratory. Data analysis was performed from September 2019 to August 2020.


Metabolic and molecular tests performed at a genetic testing reference laboratory in the US and available clinical information for each patient were assessed to determine diagnostic rate.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The diagnostic rate of traditional metabolic screening compared with clinical metabolomic profiling was assessed in the context of expanded NBS.


Of 1483 cases screened by the traditional approach, 912 patients (61.5%) were male and 1465 (98.8%) were pediatric (mean [SD] age, 4.1 [6.0] years; range, 0-65 years). A total of 19 families were identified with IEMs, resulting in a 1.3% diagnostic rate. A total of 14 IEMs were detected, including 3 conditions not included in the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel for NBS. Of the 1807 unrelated families undergoing plasma metabolomic profiling, 1059 patients (58.6%) were male, and 1665 (92.1%) were pediatric (mean [SD] age, 8.1 [10.4] years; range, 0-80 years). Screening identified 128 unique cases with IEMs, giving an overall diagnostic rate of 7.1%. In total, 70 different metabolic conditions were identified, including 49 conditions not presently included on the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel for NBS.

Conclusions and Relevance

These findings suggest that untargeted metabolomics provided a 6-fold higher diagnostic yield compared with the conventional screening approach and identified a broader spectrum of IEMs. Notably, with the expansion of NBS programs, traditional metabolic testing approaches identify few disorders beyond those covered on the NBS. These data support the capability of clinical untargeted metabolomics in screening for IEMs and suggest that broader screening approaches should be considered in the initial evaluation for metabolic disorders.

JAMA Netw Open. (2021)

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