Many metabolomics studies use mixtures of (acidified) methanol and water for sample extraction. In the present study, we investigated if the extraction with methanol can result in artifacts. To this end, wheat leaves were extracted with mixtures of native and deuterium-labeled methanol and water, with or without 0.1% formic acid. Subsequently, the extracts were analyzed immediately or after storage at 10 °C, −20 °C or −80 °C with an HPLC-HESI-QExactive HF-Orbitrap instrument. Our results showed that 88 (8%) of the >1100 detected compounds were derived from the reaction with methanol and either formed during sample extraction or short-term storage. Artifacts were found for various substance classes such as flavonoids, carotenoids, tetrapyrrols, fatty acids and other carboxylic acids that are typically investigated in metabolomics studies. 58 of 88 artifacts were common between the two tested extraction variants. Remarkably, 34 of 73 (acidified extraction solvent) and 33 of 73 (non-acidified extraction solvent) artifacts were formed de novo
as none of these meth(ox)ylated metabolites were found after extraction of native leaf samples with CD3
O. Moreover, sample extracts stored at 10 °C for several days, as can typically be the case during longer measurement sequences, led to an increase in both the number and abundance of methylated artifacts. In contrast, frozen sample extracts were relatively stable during a storage period of one week. Our study shows that caution has to be exercised if methanol is used as the extraction solvent as the detected metabolites might be artifacts rather than natural constituents of the biological system. In addition, we recommend storing sample extracts in deep freezers immediately after extraction until measurement.
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