B Madhu, M Dadulescu, J Griffiths
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OBJECT: Metabolomic studies on cultured cells involve assays of cell extracts and culture medium, both of which are often performed by (1)H NMR. Cell culture is nowadays performed in plastic dishes or flasks, and the extraction of metabolites from the cells is typically performed with perchloric acid, methanol-chloroform, or acetonitrile, ideally while the cells are still adherent to the culture dish. We conducted this investigation to identify contaminants from cell culture plasticware in metabolomic studies. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Human diploid fibroblasts (IMR90) (n = 6), HeLa cells (n = 6), and transformed astrocytes with HIF-1 knockout (Astro-KO) (n = 6) were cultured. Cells were seeded in 100 mm Petri dishes with 10 ml complete growth medium (Dulbecco's minimum essential medium) containing 10 % foetal bovine serum (FBS). Cell cultures were incubated at 37 °C in 5 % CO2 for approximately 3 days. Metabolites were extracted by use of a perchloric acid procedure. (1)H NMR spectroscopy was used for metabolite analysis. "Null sample" (i.e. cell-free) experiments were performed by either rinsing dishes with medium or incubating the medium in Petri dishes from five different manufacturers for 72 h and then by performing a dummy "extraction" of each Petri dish by the perchloric acid, methanol-chloroform, or acetonitrile procedures. Principal components analysis was used for classification of samples and to determine the contaminants arising from plasticware. RESULTS: We found that even brief rinsing of cell culture plasticware with culture medium elutes artefactual chemicals, the (1)H NMR signals of which could confound assays of acetate, succinate, and glycolate. Incubation of culture medium in cell-culture dishes for 72 h (as in a typical cell-culture experiment) followed by perchloric extraction in the dishes enhanced elution of the artefacts. These artefacts were present, but somewhat less pronounced, in the (1)H NMR spectra of null samples extracted with methanol and acetonitrile. Ethanol, lactate, alanine, fructose, and fumarate signals that appear in the (1)H NMR spectrum of the unused (pure) medium originate from FBS. CONCLUSIONS: Plastic Petri dishes from five different manufacturers gave rise to essentially identical artefactual peaks. Use of a pH indicator to assist neutralisation introduced still more artefactual signals in the aromatic region, as well as methanol and ethanol signals. Methanol and acetonitrile extracts also contained artefacts arising from the plasticware, although the amounts were less than in the perchloric acid extracts. Finally, we provide suggestions for minimizing these artefacts. The best practice would be to run a "null" extraction with every batch of cellular metabolomics experiments to test for contamination and to provide a "background" spectrum.
E-pub date: 
01 Apr 2015
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John Griffiths
Madhu Basetti