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01.12.2018 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Critical Care 1/2018

Plasma mitochondrial DNA and metabolomic alterations in severe critical illness

Critical Care > Ausgabe 1/2018
Pär I. Johansson, Kiichi Nakahira, Angela J. Rogers, Michael J. McGeachie, Rebecca M. Baron, Laura E. Fredenburgh, John Harrington, Augustine M. K. Choi, Kenneth B. Christopher
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s13054-018-2275-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Cell-free plasma mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) levels are associated with endothelial dysfunction and differential outcomes in critical illness. A substantial alteration in metabolic homeostasis is commonly observed in severe critical illness. We hypothesized that metabolic profiles significantly differ between critically ill patients relative to their level of plasma mtDNA.


We performed a metabolomic study with biorepository plasma samples collected from 73 adults with systemic inflammatory response syndrome or sepsis at a single academic medical center. Patients were treated in a 20-bed medical ICU between 2008 and 2010. To identify key metabolites and metabolic pathways related to plasma NADH dehydrogenase 1 (ND1) mtDNA levels in critical illness, we first generated metabolomic data using gas and liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy. We performed fold change analysis and volcano plot visualization based on false discovery rate-adjusted p values to evaluate the distribution of individual metabolite concentrations relative to ND1 mtDNA levels. We followed this by performing orthogonal partial least squares discriminant analysis to identify individual metabolites that discriminated ND1 mtDNA groups. We then interrogated the entire metabolomic profile using pathway overrepresentation analysis to identify groups of metabolite pathways that were different relative to ND1 mtDNA levels.


Metabolomic profiles significantly differed in critically ill patients with ND1 mtDNA levels ≥ 3200 copies/μl plasma relative to those with an ND1 mtDNA level < 3200 copies/μl plasma. Several analytical strategies showed that patients with ND1 mtDNA levels ≥ 3200 copies/μl plasma had significant decreases in glycerophosphocholines and increases in short-chain acylcarnitines.


Differential metabolic profiles during critical illness are associated with cell-free plasma ND1 mtDNA levels that are indicative of cell damage. Elevated plasma ND1 mtDNA levels are associated with decreases in glycerophosphocholines and increases in short-chain acylcarnitines that reflect phospholipid metabolism dysregulation and decreased mitochondrial function, respectively.
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