Liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry assay for determination of nicotine and metabolites, caffeine and arecoline in breast milk

Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2007;21(16):2693-703. doi: 10.1002/rcm.3137.


A procedure based on liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) is described for the determination of nicotine and its principal metabolites cotinine, trans-3-hydroxycotinine and cotinine-N-oxide, caffeine and arecoline in breast milk, using N-ethylnorcotinine as internal standard. Liquid/liquid extraction with chloroform/isopropanol (95:5, v/v) was used for nicotine, cotinine, trans-3-hydroxycotinine, cotinine-N-oxide and caffeine under neutral conditions and for arecoline under basic conditions. Chromatography was performed on a C(8) reversed-phase column using a gradient of 50 mM ammonium formate, pH 5.0, and acetonitrile as a mobile phase at a flow rate of 0.5 mL/min. Separated analytes were determined by electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry in the positive ion mode using multiple reaction monitoring. Limits of quantification were 5 microg/L for nicotine, cotinine, trans-3-hydroxycotinine, cotinine-N-oxide and caffeine, and 50 microg/L for arecoline using 1 mL human milk per assay. Calibration curves were linear over the calibration ranges for all the substances under investigation, with a minimum r(2) > 0.998. At three concentrations spanning the linear dynamic range of the assay, mean recoveries from breast milk ranged between 71.8 and 77.4% for different analytes. This method was applied to the analysis of analytes in human milk to assess substance exposure in breast-fed infants in relation to eventual clinical outcomes. This LC/MS/MS assay provides adequate sensitivity and performance characteristics for the simultaneous quantification of biomarkers of three of the drugs most commonly used worldwide (tobacco, caffeine and areca nut).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arecoline / analysis*
  • Caffeine / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*


  • Caffeine
  • Arecoline
  • Nicotine