The “ForensOMICS” approach for postmortem interval estimation from human bone by integrating metabolomics, lipidomics and proteomics

Bonicelli, Andrea orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9518-584X, Mickleburgh, Hayley L., Chigine, Alberto, Locci, Emanuela, Wescott, Daniel J. and Procopio, Noemi orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7461-7586 (2022) The “ForensOMICS” approach for postmortem interval estimation from human bone by integrating metabolomics, lipidomics and proteomics. eLife .

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The combined use of multiple omics methods to answer complex system biology questions is growing in biological and medical sciences, as the importance of studying interrelated biological processes in their entirety is increasingly recognized. We applied a combination of metabolomics, lipidomics and proteomics to human bone to investigate the potential of this multi-omics approach to estimate the time elapsed since death (i.e., the postmortem interval, PMI). This “ForensOMICS” approach has the potential to improve accuracy and precision of PMI estimation of skeletonized human remains, thereby helping forensic investigators to establish the timeline of events surrounding death. Anterior midshaft tibial bone was collected from four female body donors in a fresh stage of decomposition before placement of the bodies to decompose outdoors at the human taphonomy facility managed by the Forensic Anthropological Center at Texas State (FACTS). Bone samples were again collected at selected PMIs (219, 790, 834 and 872 days). Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) was used to obtain untargeted metabolomic, lipidomic and proteomic profiles from the pre- and post-placement bone samples. Univariate and multivariate analysis were used to investigate the three omics blocks independently and followed by Data Integration Analysis for Biomarker discovery using Latent variable approaches for Omics studies (DIABLO), to identify the reduced number of markers that could effectively describe postmortem changes and discriminate the individuals based on their PMI. The resulting model showed that pre-placement bone metabolome, lipidome and proteome profiles were clearly distinguishable from post-placement profiles. Metabolites associated with the pre-placement samples, suggested an extinction of the energetic metabolism and a switch towards another source of fuelling (e.g., structural proteins). We were able to identify certain biomolecules from the three groups that show excellent potential for estimation of the PMI, predominantly the biomolecules from the metabolomics block. Our findings suggest that, by targeting a combination of compounds with different postmortem stability, in future studies we could be able to estimate both short PMIs, by using metabolites and lipids, and longer PMIs, by including more stable proteins.

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