Simultaneous quantitative analysis of bioactive sphingolipids by high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry

Methods. 2006 Jun;39(2):82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2006.05.004.


There has been a recent explosion in research concerning novel bioactive sphingolipids (SPLs) such as ceramide (Cer), sphingosine (Sph) and sphingosine 1-phosphate (Sph-1P) that necessitates development of accurate and user-friendly methodology for analyzing and quantitating the endogenous levels of these molecules. ESI/MS/MS methodology provides a universal tool used for detecting and monitoring changes in SPL levels and composition from biological materials. Simultaneous ESI/MS/MS analysis of sphingoid bases (SBs), sphingoid base 1-phosphates (SB-1Ps), Cers and sphingomyelins (SMs) is performed on a Thermo Finnigan TSQ 7000 triple quadrupole mass spectrometer operating in a multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) positive ionization mode. Biological materials (cells, tissues or physiological fluids) are fortified with internal standards (ISs), extracted into a one-phase neutral organic solvent system, and analyzed by a Surveyor/TSQ 7000 LC/MS system. Qualitative analysis of SPLs is performed by a Parent Ion scan of a common fragment ion characteristic for a particular class of SPLs. Quantitative analysis is based on calibration curves generated by spiking an artificial matrix with known amounts of target synthetic standards and an equal amount of IS. The calibration curves are constructed by plotting the peak area ratios of analyte to the respective IS against concentration using a linear regression model. This robust analytical procedure can determine the composition of endogenous sphingolipids (ESPLs) in varied biological materials and achieve a detection limit at 1 pmol or lower level. This and related methodology are already defining unexpected specialization and specificity in the metabolism and function of distinct subspecies of individual bioactive SPLs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Automation
  • Calibration
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Solvents
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Sphingolipids / analysis*
  • Sphingolipids / chemistry
  • Sphingolipids / isolation & purification
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Solvents
  • Sphingolipids