Mass spectrometry in combination with tracer experiments based on 13C substrates can serve as a powerful tool for the modeling and analysis of intracellular fluxes and the investigation of biochemical networks. The theoretical background for the application of mass spectrometry to metabolic flux analysis is discussed. Mass spectrometry methods are especially useful to determine mass distribution of metabolites. Additional information gained from fragmentation of metabolites, e.g., by electron impact ionization, allows further localization of labeling positions, up to complete resolution of isotopomer pools. To effectively handle mass distributions in simulation experiments, a matrix based general methodology is formulated. The natural isotope distribution of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen in the target metabolites is considered by introduction of correction matrices. It is shown by simulation results for the central carbon metabolism that neglecting natural isotope distributions causes significant errors in intracellular flux distributions. By varying relative fluxes into pentosephosphate pathway and pyruvate carboxylation reaction, marked changes in the mass distributions of metabolites result, which are illustrated for pyruvate, oxaloacetate, and alpha-ketoglutarate. In addition mass distributions of metabolites are significantly influenced over a broad range by the degree of reversibility of transaldolase and transketolase reactions in the pentosephosphate pathway. The mass distribution of metabolites is very sensitive towards intracellular flux patterns and can be measured with high accuracy by routine mass spectrometry methods. Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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