Metabolomics is an emerging science that can inform pathogenic mechanisms behind clinical phenotypes in COPD. We aimed to understand disturbances in the serum metabolome associated with respiratory outcomes in ever-smokers from the SPIROMICS cohort. We measured 27 serum metabolites, mostly amino acids, by 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in 157 white ever-smokers with and without COPD. We tested the association between log-transformed metabolite concentrations and one-year incidence of respiratory exacerbations after adjusting for age, sex, current smoking, body mass index, diabetes, inhaled or oral corticosteroid use, study site and clinical predictors of exacerbations, including FEV1% predicted and history of exacerbations. The mean age of participants was 53.7 years and 58% had COPD. Lower concentrations of serum amino acids were independently associated with 1-year incidence of respiratory exacerbations, including tryptophan (β = −4.1, 95% CI [−7.0; −1.1], p = 0.007) and the branched-chain amino acids (leucine: β = −6.0, 95% CI [−9.5; −2.4], p = 0.001; isoleucine: β = −5.2, 95% CI [−8.6; −1.8], p = 0.003; valine: β = −4.1, 95% CI [−6.9; −1.4], p = 0.003). Tryptophan concentration was inversely associated with the blood neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (p = 0.03) and the BODE index (p = 0.03). Reduced serum amino acid concentrations in ever-smokers with and without COPD are associated with an increased incidence of respiratory exacerbations.
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