Analytica chimica acta

A liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method based on class characteristic fragmentation pathways to detect the class of indole-derivative synthetic cannabinoids in biological samples.

PMID 25000860


This article describes a liquid chromatographic/tandem mass spectrometric method, based on the use of precursor ion scan as the acquisition mode, specifically developed to detect indole-derived cannabinoids (phenylacetylindoles, naphthoylindoles and benzoylindoles) in biological fluids (saliva, urine and blood). The method is designed to recognize one or more common "structural markers", corresponding to mass spectral fragments originating from the specific portion of the molecular structure that is common to the aminoalkylindole analogues and that is fundamental for their pharmacological classification. As such, the method is also suitable for detecting unknown substances, provided they contain the targeted portion of the molecular structure. The pre-treatment procedure consists in a liquid/liquid extraction step carried out at neutral pH: this is the only pretreatment in the case of analyses carried out in saliva, while it follows an enzymatic hydrolysis procedure in the case of urine samples, or a protein precipitation step in the case of blood samples. The chromatographic separation is achieved using an octadecyl reverse-phase 5 μm fused-core particle column; while the mass spectrometric detection is carried out by a triple-quadrupole instrument in positive electrospray ionization and precursor ion scan as acquisition mode, selecting, as mass spectral fragments, the indole (m/z 144), the carbonylnaphthalenyl (m/z 155) and the naphthalenyl (m/z 127) moieties. Once developed and optimized, the analytical procedure was validated in term of sensitivity (lower limits of detection in the range of 0.1-0.5 ng mL(-1)), specificity (no interference was detected at the retention times of the analytes under investigation), recovery (higher than 65% with a satisfactory repeatability: CV% lower than 10), matrix effect (lower than 30% for all the biological specimens tested), repeatability of the retention times (CV% lower than 0.1), robustness, and carry over (the positive reference samples at a concentration 20 times the LLOD value did not affect the blank samples). The suitability of the proposed procedure, both as a targeted and an untargeted approach, was verified by analyzing samples containing synthetic cannabinoids and/or their metabolites and samples obtained from the incubation of synthetic cannabinoids with human liver microsomes.