June 2, 2023
Journal Article

Evaluating Retention Index Score Assumptions to Refine GC-MS Metabolite Identification


As metabolomics grows into a high-throughput and high demand research field, current metrics for the identification of small mol-ecules in GC-MS still require manual verification. Though steps have been taken to improve scoring metrics by combining spectral similarity (SS) and retention index (RI), the problem persists. A large body of literature has analyzed and refined SS scores, but few studies have explicitly studied improvements to RI scores. Here, we examined whether uninvestigated assumptions of the RI score are valid and propose ways to improve them. Query RI were matched to library RI with a generous window of +/-35 to avoid unintentional removal of valid compound identifications. Each match was manually verified as a true positive, true negative or unknown. Metabolites with at least 30 true positive identifications were included in downstream analyses, resulting in a total of 87 metabolites from samples of varying complexity and type (e.g., amino acid mixtures, human urine, fungal species, etc.). Our results showed that the RI score assumptions of normality, consistent variance across metabolites, and a mean error centered at 0 are often violated. We demonstrated through a cross-validation analysis that modifying these underlying assumptions according to empirical, metabolite-specific distributions improved the true positive and negative rankings. Further, we statistically determined the minimum number of samples required to estimate distributional parameters for scoring metrics. Overall, this work proposes a robust statistical pipeline to reduce the time bottleneck of metabolite identification by improving RI scores and thus minimizes the effort to complete manual verification.

Published: June 2, 2023


Degnan D.J., L.M. Bramer, J.E. Flores, V.L. Paurus, Y. Eberlim de Corilo, and C.S. Clendinen. 2023. Evaluating Retention Index Score Assumptions to Refine GC-MS Metabolite Identification. Analytical Chemistry 95, no. 19:7536–7544. PNNL-SA-181303. doi:10.1021/acs.analchem.2c05783