Forensic science international

Identification of N,N-dimethylamphetamine formed by methylation of methamphetamine in formalin-fixed liver tissue by multistage mass spectrometry.

PMID 15893897


Methamphetamine is methylated in the presence of unbuffered formalin solutions within hours at room temperature. The product, N,N-dimethylamphetamine, is also found in human liver exposed to methamphetamine followed by incubation with formalin. In the present study, a direct mass spectrometric method was developed to identify N,N-dimethylamphetamine in human liver before and after treatment with formalin. Human liver samples were obtained from four deaths that were investigated by the West Virginia Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Full toxicological analysis was conducted on samples from the decedents and methamphetamine was among the positive findings in each case. The method used to expose liver tissue to formaldehyde involved treating a small piece of liver from each case with formalin solution (20% v/v) for 24 h at room temperature. The formalin treated tissues were homogenized and the resulting suspension was sonicated for 5 min, and then centrifuged. Supernatant aliquots were directly analyzed by electrospray ionization (ESI) mass spectrometry without chromatographic isolation. Positive ion multistage mass spectra recorded in MS, MS/MS and MS/MS/MS (MS3) modes were used to confirm the presence of N,N-dimethylamphetamine and methamphetamine in the mixture. Liver tissue not treated with formalin did not contain a detectable level of N,N-dimethylamphetamine. Decreases in methamphetamine concentrations in liver tissue resulting from treatment with formalin were measured using deuterium-labeled methamphetamine as internal standard. The method can be completed in less than 2 h on thawed tissue. The results suggest that the process of fixing tissues with formalin may lead to false negative findings for methamphetamine.