Metabolomics of World Trade Center-Lung Injury: A machine learning approach

George Crowley, Sophia Kwon, Syed Hissam Haider, Erin J. Caraher, Rachel Lam, David E. St-Jules, Mengling Liu, David J. Prezant, Anna Nolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations


Introduction Biomarkers of metabolic syndrome expressed soon after World Trade Center (WTC) exposure predict development of WTC Lung Injury (WTC-LI). The metabolome remains an untapped resource with potential to comprehensively characterise many aspects of WTC-LI. This case-control study identified a clinically relevant, robust subset of metabolic contributors of WTC-LI through comprehensive high-dimensional metabolic profiling and integration of machine learning techniques. Methods Never-smoking, male, WTC-exposed firefighters with normal pre-9/11 lung function were segregated by post-9/11 lung function. Cases of WTC-LI (forced expiratory volume in 1s <lower limit of normal, n=15) and controls (n=15) were identified from previous cohorts. The metabolome of serum drawn within 6 months of 9/11 was quantified. Machine learning was used for dimension reduction to identify metabolites associated with WTC-LI. Results 580 metabolites qualified for random forests (RF) analysis to identify a refined metabolite profile that yielded maximal class separation. RF of the refined profile correctly classified subjects with a 93.3% estimated success rate. 5 clusters of metabolites emerged within the refined profile. Prominent subpathways include known mediators of lung disease such as sphingolipids (elevated in cases of WTC-LI), and branched-chain amino acids (reduced in cases of WTC-LI). Principal component analysis of the refined profile explained 68.3% of variance in five components, demonstrating class separation. Conclusion Analysis of the metabolome of WTC-exposed 9/11 rescue workers has identified biologically plausible pathways associated with loss of lung function. Since metabolites are proximal markers of disease processes, metabolites could capture the complexity of past exposures and better inform treatment. These pathways warrant further mechanistic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000274
JournalBMJ Open Respiratory Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • occupational lung disease
  • systemic disease and lungs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Metabolomics of World Trade Center-Lung Injury: A machine learning approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Crowley, G., Kwon, S., Haider, S. H., Caraher, E. J., Lam, R., St-Jules, D. E., Liu, M., Prezant, D. J., & Nolan, A. (2018). Metabolomics of World Trade Center-Lung Injury: A machine learning approach. BMJ Open Respiratory Research, 5(1), [e000274].