Analytical strategies for the direct mass spectrometric analysis of steroid and corticosteroid phase II metabolites

Steroids. 2005 Mar;70(3):205-16. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2004.11.009.


The use of steroid hormones as growth promoters remains illegal in Europe. A classical approach used to control their utilization consists to measure the parent drug in target biological matrices. However, this strategy may fail when the parent drug is submitted to extensive metabolism reactions. For urine and tissue samples, chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis is usually applied in order to deconjugate glucuronide and sulfate phase II metabolites. But this treatment lead to the loss of information such as nature and relative proportions of the different conjugated forms, which can be useful, for example, to discriminate an endogenous production from an exogenous administration for natural hormones, or for other clinical or biochemical specific applications. For these purposes, direct measurement of conjugated metabolites using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry may represent a solution of choice. In this context, the mass spectrometric behavior of 14 steroid and corticosteroid phase II metabolites after electrospray ionization was investigated. Their fragmentation pathways in tandem mass spectrometry revealed some specificities within the different group of conjugates. A specific acquisition program (MRM mode) was developed for the unambiguous identification of the studied reference compounds. A more generic method (Parent Scan mode) was also developed for fishing approaches consisting to monitor several fragment ions typical of each conjugate class. A reverse phase HPLC procedure was also proposed for efficient retention and separation of the studied compounds. Finally, a protocol based on quaternary amine SPE was developed, permitting the separation of free, glucuronide, and sulfate fractions. Preliminary results on biological samples demonstrated the suitability of this analytical strategy for direct measurement of dexamethasone glucuronide and sulfate residues in bovine urine.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / chemistry*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / metabolism
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / urine*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Dexamethasone / analogs & derivatives
  • Dexamethasone / urine
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Glucuronides / chemistry
  • Hydrolysis
  • Ions
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Steroids / chemistry*
  • Steroids / urine*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Sulfates / urine


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Glucuronides
  • Ions
  • Steroids
  • Sulfates
  • dexamethasone glucuronide
  • Dexamethasone