Introduction: Previous metabolomics studies have revealed perturbed metabolic signatures in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) patients, however, most of these studies included mainly late-staged ESCC patients due to the difficulties of collecting the early-staged samples from asymptotic ESCC subjects. Objectives This study aims to explore the early-staged ESCC metabolic signatures and potential of serum metabolomics to diagnose ESCC at early stages.
Methods: Serum samples of 97 ESCC patients (stage 0, 39 cases; stage I, 17 cases; stage II, 11 cases, stage III, 30 cases) and 105 healthy controls (HC) were enrolled and randomly separated into training data (77 ESCCs, 84 HCs) and validation data (20 ESCCs, 21 HCs). Untargeted metabolomics was performed to identify ESCC-related metabolic signatures. Results The global metabolomics profiles could clearly distinguish ESCC from HC in training data. 16 ascertained metabolites were found to be disturbed in the metabolic pathways characterized by dysregulated fatty acid biosynthesis, glycerophospholipid metabolism, choline metabolism in cancer and linoleic acid metabolism. The AUC value in validation data was 0.895, with sensitivity 85.0 % and specificity 90.5 %. Good diagnostic performances were also achieved for early stage ESCC, with the values of area under the curve (AUC) 0.881 for the ESCC patients in both stage 0 and I–II. In addition, six metabolites were found to discriminate ESCC stages. Among them, three biomarkers, dodecanoic acid, LysoPA(18:1), and LysoPC(14:0), exhibited clear trend for ESCC progression.
Conclusion: These findings suggest serum metabolomics, performed in a minimally noninvasive and convenient manner, may possess great potential for early diagnosis of ESCC patients.