Tandem mass spectrometry in the study of fatty acids, bile acids, and steroids

Mass Spectrom Rev. 2003 Mar-Apr;22(2):81-152. doi: 10.1002/mas.10046.


Over the last 50 years, the mass spectrometry of lipids has evolved to become one of the most mature techniques in biomolecule analysis. Many volatile and non-polar lipids are directly amenable to analysis by gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), a technique that combines the unsurpassed separation properties of gas-chromatography with the sensitivity and selectivity of electron ionization mass spectrometry. Less volatile and/or thermally labile lipids can be analyzed by GC-MS, following appropriate sample derivatization. However, many complex lipids are not readily analyzed by GC-MS, and it is these molecules that are the subject of the current review. Since the early 1970s, there have been three outstanding developments in mass spectrometry that are particularly appropriate in lipid analysis; i.e., the introduction of (i) fast atom bombardment (FAB); (ii) electrospray (ES); and (iii) tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). The FAB and ES ionization techniques will be discussed in relation to MS/MS, and examples of their application in biochemical studies will be presented. The review will concentrate on the analysis of fatty acids, bile acids, steroid conjugates, and neutral steroids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehydes / analysis
  • Aldehydes / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts* / analysis
  • Bile Acids and Salts* / chemistry
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry, Physical
  • Fatty Acids* / analysis
  • Fatty Acids* / chemistry
  • Fatty Alcohols / analysis
  • Fatty Alcohols / chemistry
  • Glucuronides / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Mass Spectrometry* / methods
  • Phospholipids / analysis
  • Phospholipids / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Fast Atom Bombardment
  • Steroids* / analysis
  • Steroids* / chemistry
  • Sulfates / chemistry
  • Triglycerides / analysis
  • Triglycerides / chemistry


  • Aldehydes
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Alcohols
  • Glucuronides
  • Lipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Steroids
  • Sulfates
  • Triglycerides