Connecting environmental exposure and neurodegeneration using cheminformatics and high resolution mass spectrometry: potential and challenges†
Connecting chemical exposures over a lifetime to complex chronic diseases with multifactorial causes such as neurodegenerative diseases is an immense challenge requiring a long-term, interdisciplinary approach. Rapid developments in analytical and data technologies, such as non-target high resolution mass spectrometry (NT-HR-MS), have opened up new possibilities to accomplish this, inconceivable 20 years ago. While NT-HR-MS is being applied to increasingly complex research questions, there are still many unidentified chemicals and uncertainties in linking exposures to human health outcomes and environmental impacts. In this perspective, we explore the possibilities and challenges involved in using cheminformatics and NT-HR-MS to answer complex questions that cross many scientific disciplines, taking the identification of potential (small molecule) neurotoxicants in environmental or biological matrices as a case study. We explore capturing literature knowledge and patient exposure information in a form amenable to high-throughput data mining, and the related cheminformatic challenges. We then briefly cover which sample matrices are available, which method(s) could potentially be used to detect these chemicals in various matrices and what remains beyond the reach of NT-HR-MS. We touch on the potential for biological validation systems to contribute to mechanistic understanding of observations and explore which sampling and data archiving strategies may be required to form an accurate, sustained picture of small molecule signatures on extensive cohorts of patients with chronic neurodegenerative disorders. Finally, we reflect on how NT-HR-MS can support unravelling the contribution of the environment to complex diseases.