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The MagLab is funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Florida.

18O Water Used to Examine Metabolic Functions

Published June 20, 2024


Deuterated water (2H2O) is often used to examine metabolic pathways in humans and animals. However, it can cause toxicity and distort metabolic readings. Here, using nuclear magnetic resonance technology, the researchers showed that a different molecule, 18O water (H218O), can be used instead of deuterated water to provide similar information without the metabolic distortions.

What did scientists discover?

Deuterated water (2H2O), which is composed of heavier hydrogen isotopes than ordinary water, is often used to ‘label’ glucose molecules for studying metabolic function of the liver. However, deuterated water causes some chemical reactions to occur at different rates than normal water, which can distort data gathered in this way. 18O-water (H218O) uses a heavier oxygen isotope instead and does not affect chemical reactions in the same way. Here, researchers demonstrated that 18O-water can be used to examine metabolic functions in much the same way as deuterated water, but without interfering with chemical reactions or resulting in distorted data.

Why is this important?

Beyond altering metabolic readings, deuterated water is toxic and can harm an organism. If 18O-water can replace deuterated water for this kind of screening, the process would become both more accurate and safer. This study marks the first time 18O-water has been used to assess metabolic pathways in animal models. While 18O-water is expensive and requires specialized equipment to detect labeled molecules, this experiment is an important proof-of-concept that may pave the way for more advanced metabolic assessment techniques in the future.

Who did the research?

Margarida Coelho1, Rohit Mahar1, Getachew D. Belew1, Alejandra Torres1, Cristina Barosa1, et al.

1University of Coimbra; 2University of Florida

Why did they need the MagLab?

18O-water is not directly detectable by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, however, 18O atoms do impact how glucose appears on NMR spectroscopy, but only very slightly. A novel chemical process was used here to magnify the effect of the 18O by nearly 100x, allowing it to be detected by the highly-sensitive 18.8T cryoprobe using NMR spectroscopy equipment provided by the MagLab.

Details for scientists


This research was funded by the following grants: G.S. Boebinger (NSF DMR-1644779); M. Merritt (NIH DK105346 and DK132254); M. Coelho (ESF PD/BD/135178/2017)

For more information, contact Joanna Long.

Last modified on 20 June 2024