Contribution towards a metabolite profile of the detoxification of benzoic acid through glycine conjugation: An intervention study

Cindy Irwin, Mari Van Reenen, Shayne Mason, Lodewyk J. Mienie, Johan A. Westerhuis, Carolus J. Reinecke

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Benzoic acid is widely used as a preservative in food products and is detoxified in humans through glycine conjugation. Different viewpoints prevail on the physiological significance of the glycine conjugation reaction and concerns have been raised on potential public health consequences following uncontrolled benzoic acid ingestion. We performed a metabolomics study which used commercial benzoic acid containing flavored water as vehicle for designed interventions, and report here on the controlled consumption of the benzoic acid by 21 cases across 6 time points for a total of 126 time points. Metabolomics data from urinary samples analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were generated in a timedependent cross-over study. We used ANOVA-simultaneous component analysis (ASCA), repeated measures analysis of variance (RM-ANOVA) and unfolded principal component analysis (unfolded PCA) to supplement conventional statistical methods to uncover fully the metabolic perturbations due to the xenobiotic intervention, encapsulated in the metabolomics tensor (three-dimensional matrices having cases, spectral areas and time as axes). Identification of the biologically important metabolites by the novel combination of statistical methods proved the power of this approach for metabolomics studies having complex data structures in general. The study disclosed a high degree of inter-individual variation in detoxification of the xenobiotic and revealed metabolic information, indicating that detoxification of benzoic acid through glycine conjugation to hippuric acid does not indicate glycine depletion, but is supplemented by ample glycine regeneration. The observations lend support to the view of maintenance of glycine homeostasis during detoxification. The study indicates also that time-dependent metabolomics investigations, using designed interventions, provide a way of interpreting the variation induced by the different factors of a designed experiment an approach with potential to advance significantly our understanding of normal and pathophysiological perturbations of endogenous or exogenous origin.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0167309
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


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