Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry

p-Tolyl isocyanate derivatization for analysis of CWC-related polar degradation products by mass spectrometry.

PMID 24553658


Most of the precursors and/or degradation products related to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are polar. Identification of these molecules in environmental samples provides clues regarding the alleged usage and/or synthesis of the parent toxic chemicals. Such polar compounds need to be derivatized in order to analyze them by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). In this study, we developed a new derivatizing reagent, para-tolyl isocyanate (PTI), for derivatization of polar CWC-related compounds. The PTI reagent selectively derivatizes the -OH and/or-SH functional groups with high efficiency, but does not react with carboxylic acid (-COOH) or phosphonic acid (-(O)P(OH)2) groups. The PTI derivatives of dialkyl aminoethanols, dialkyl aminoethanol-N-oxides, and 3-quinuclidinol were successfully eluted through GC, and their electron ionization (EI) mass spectra were distinct and provided the structure information by which the isomeric compounds can be easily distinguished. We also calculated the GC-retention index values that can be used for further confirmation of the target compounds. All the studied PTI derivatives can be analyzed by EI-MS with direct insertion probe and/or by direct electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) together with the MS-MS data; both sets of data provide full structure information. The PTI reagent was found to be better in some respects than the conventional bistrimethylsilyl trifluoroacetamide (BSTFA), a trimethyl silylating reagent. The PTI reagent is commercially available, and the PTI derivatives are highly stable for months and are not sensitive to moisture. The applicability of the PTI derivatization for trace-level determination of the target CWC-related polar compounds in environmental matrices and in human plasma samples is also evaluated.