Metabolic signatures of thymomas: potential biomarkers and treatment targets

James W. Miller, Brandon M. Faubert, Thomas P. Mathews, John K Waters, Ralph J. DeBerardinis, Kemp H. Kernstine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: A study of tumour metabolic reprogramming has revealed disease biomarkers and avenues for therapeutic intervention. Metabolic reprogramming in thymoma is currently understudied and largely unknown. This study utilized metabolomics and isotope tracing with 13C-glucose to metabolically investigate thymomas, adjacent thymic tissue and benign thymic lesions. METHODS: From 2017 to 2021, 20 patients with a suspected thymoma were recruited to this prospective Institutional Review Board approved clinical trial. At the time of surgery, 11 patients were infused with 13C-glucose, a stable, non-radioactive tracer which reports the flow of carbon through metabolic pathways. Samples were analysed by mass spectrometry to measure the abundance of >200 metabolites.13C enrichment was measured in patients who received 13C-glucose infusions. RESULTS: Histological analysis showed that 9 patients had thymomas of diverse subtypes and 11 patients had benign cysts. In our metabolomic analysis, thymomas could be distinguished from both adjacent thymus tissue and benign lesions by metabolite abundances. Metabolites in pyrimidine biosynthesis and glycerophospholipid metabolism were differentially expressed across these tissues.13C-glucose infusions revealed differential labelling patterns in thymoma compared to benign cysts and normal thymus tissue. The lactate/3PG labelling ratio, a metabolic marker in aggressive lung tumours correlated with lactate uptake, was increased in thymomas (1.579) compared to normal thymus (0.945) and benign masses (0.807) (thymic tissue versus tumour P¼ 0.021, tumour versus benign P¼ 0.013). CONCLUSIONS: We report metabolic biomarkers, including differential 13C labelling of metabolites from central metabolism, that distinguish thymomas from benign tissues. Altered glucose and lactate metabolism warrant further investigation and may provide novel therapeutic targets for thymoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberezad394
JournalEuropean Journal of Cardio-thoracic Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024


  • Biomarkers
  • Metabolism
  • Thymomas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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