Open Access Research article

Metabolic profiles characterizing different phenotypes of polycystic ovary syndrome: plasma metabolomics analysis

Yue Zhao123, Li Fu123, Rong Li123, Li-Na Wang12, Yan Yang12, Na-Na Liu13, Chun-Mei Zhang13, Ying Wang13, Ping Liu12, Bin-Bin Tu12, Xue Zhang13 and Jie Qiao123*

Author Affiliations

1 Reproductive Medical Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Peking University Third Hospital, Beijing, China

2 Key Laboratory of Assisted Reproduction, Ministry of Education, Beijing, China

3 Beijing Key Laboratory of Reproductive Endocrinology and Assisted Reproductive Technology, Beijing, China

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:153  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-153

Published: 30 November 2012



Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a heterogeneous endocrine disorder accompanied with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease; despite being a common condition, the pathogenesis of PCOS remains unclear. Our aim was to investigate the potential metabolic profiles for different phenotypes of PCOS, as well as for the early prognosis of complications.


A total of 217 women with PCOS and 48 healthy women as normal controls were studied. Plasma samples of subjects were tested using two different analytical platforms of metabolomics: 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and gas chromatography/time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC/TOF-MS).


Our results showed that carbohydrate, lipid and amino acid metabolisms were influenced in PCOS. The levels of lactate, long-chain fatty acids, triglyceride and very low-density lipoprotein were elevated, while glucose, phosphatidylcholine and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) concentrations were reduced in PCOS patients as compared with controls. Additionally, the levels of alanine, valine, serine, threonine, ornithine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan were generally increased, whereas the levels of glycine and proline were significantly reduced in PCOS samples compared to controls. Furthermore, the ratio of branched-chain amino acid to aromatic amino acid concentrations (BCAA/AAA) in PCOS plasma was significantly reduced in PCOS patients and was insusceptible to obesity and insulin sensitivity.


Our results suggested that the enhanced glycolysis and inhibited tricarboxylic acid cycle (TAC) in women with PCOS. Decrease of BCAA/AAA ratio was directly correlated with the development of PCOS. Ovulatory dysfunction of PCOS patients was associated with raised production of serine, threonine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and ornithine. Elevated levels of valine and leucine, and decreased concentrations of glycine in PCOS plasma could contribute to insulin sensitivity and could be considered as the potential biomarkers for long-term risk assessment of diabetes mellitus.

polycystic ovary syndrome; amino acid metabolism; carbohydrate and lipid metabolism; insulin resistance; inflammation