Quantitative measurement of endogenous estrogens and estrogen metabolites in human serum by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2007 Oct 15;79(20):7813-21. doi: 10.1021/ac070494j. Epub 2007 Sep 12.


Endogenous estrogen plays a key role in the development of human breast cancer, yet the contribution of specific estrogen metabolites and patterns of estrogen metabolism remains unclear. To determine their individual and joint roles in breast carcinogenesis, it is necessary to be able to measure quantitatively each estrogen metabolite in epidemiologic and clinical biospecimens. In this report, we detail a sensitive, specific, accurate, and precise high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method utilizing selected reaction monitoring for measuring the absolute quantities of free (unconjugated) and total (conjugated + unconjugated) endogenous estrogens and estrogen metabolites in human serum from premenopausal and postmenopausal women. The method requires a simple sample preparation and only 0.5 mL of serum, yet is capable of quantifying simultaneously 15 estrogens and estrogen metabolites (EM): estrone and its 2-, 4-, and 16alpha-hydroxy and 2- and 4-methoxy derivatives; 2-hydroxyestrone-3-methyl ether; 17beta-estradiol and its 2-hydroxy and 2- and 4-methoxy derivatives; and estriol, 17-epiestriol, 16-ketoestradiol, and 16-epiestriol. The lower limit of quantitation for each EM was 0.4 pg on-column, equivalent to 8 pg/mL (26.5-29.6 fmol/mL) in the original serum sample. Calibration curves were linear over a 10(3)-fold concentration range. For a stripped serum sample containing 8 pg/mL of each EM, accuracy (percent recovery of a known added amount) ranged from 91 to 113%. Intrabatch precision (including hydrolysis, extraction, and derivatization steps) ranged from 7 to 30% relative standard deviation (RSD), and interbatch precision ranged from 8 to 29% RSD. Since distinct roles have been proposed for many of these estrogen metabolites, an accurate, precise, sensitive, and specific method for measuring their levels in circulation should suggest new approaches to breast cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Estrogens / blood*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Ions / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Estrogens
  • Ions