Child Stunting is Associated with Low Circulating Essential Amino Acids

Richard D. Semba, Michelle Shardell, Fayrouz A. Sakr Ashour, Ruin Moaddel, Indi Trehan, Kenneth M. Maleta, M. Isabel Ordiz, Klaus Kraemer, Mohammed A. Khadeer, Luigi Ferrucci, Mark J. Manary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Stunting affects about one-quarter of children under five worldwide. The pathogenesis of stunting is poorly understood. Nutritional interventions have had only modest effects in reducing stunting. We hypothesized that insufficiency in essential amino acids may be limiting the linear growth of children. Methods: We used a targeted metabolomics approach to measure serum amino acids, glycerophospholipids, sphingolipids, and other metabolites using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry in 313 children, aged 12-59 months, from rural Malawi. Children underwent anthropometry. Findings: Sixty-two percent of the children were stunted. Children with stunting had lower serum concentrations of all nine essential amino acids (tryptophan, isoleucine, leucine, valine, methionine, threonine, histidine, phenylalanine, lysine) compared with nonstunted children (p < 0.01). In addition, stunted children had significantly lower serum concentrations of conditionally essential amino acids (arginine, glycine, glutamine), non-essential amino acids (asparagine, glutamate, serine), and six different sphingolipids compared with nonstunted children. Stunting was also associated with alterations in serum glycerophospholipid concentrations. Interpretation: Our findings support the idea that children with a high risk of stunting may not be receiving an adequate dietary intake of essential amino acids and choline, an essential nutrient for the synthesis of sphingolipids and glycerophospholipids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-252
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Amino acids
  • Children
  • Glycerophospholipids
  • Malnutrition
  • Sphingolipids
  • Stunting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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