Quantification of sulforaphane mercapturic acid pathway conjugates in human urine by high-performance liquid chromatography and isotope-dilution tandem mass spectrometry

Chem Res Toxicol. 2008 Oct;21(10):1991-6. doi: 10.1021/tx800210k. Epub 2008 Aug 26.


We report validation of the first high-pressure liquid chromatography isotope-dilution mass spectrometry method to measure sulforaphane (SFN) and its glutathione-derived conjugates in human urine. As epidemiological evidence continues to mount that the consumption of a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables may reduce the risk of certain cancers, the development of analytical methodologies to accurately measure isothiocyanates (ITCs) and their subsequent metabolic products becomes paramount. SFN, the principal ITC produced by broccoli, is an effective chemopreventive agent with multiple modes of action. SFN and SFN conjugates have often been measured collectively utilizing a cyclocondensation assay with 1,2-benzenedithiol. More recently, some of the major SFN conjugates have been determined using mass spectrometry. Here, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry has been coupled with the use of stable isotope-labeled internal standards of D8-SFN and all four D8-SFN mercapturic acid pathway conjugates to provide an accurate, precise, sensitive, and specific method for analysis of these compounds. Using urine samples collected during an earlier intervention with broccoli sprouts, the concentrations of SFN, SFN-cysteine, and the mercapturic acid SFN- N-acetylcysteine were sufficiently high such that as little as 50 nL of urine was required for analysis. Although each study participant received an equivalent dose of broccoli sprout preparation, the interindividual conversion of the precursor glucosinolate to SFN varied over 100-fold. These 98 urines provided an ideal sample set for examining the robustness of the assay. The mean urinary concentrations +/- standard deviations in overnight voids following ingestion of the first dose were 4.7 +/- 5.1, 0.03 +/- 0.05, 0.06 +/- 0.06, 18 +/- 15, and 42 +/- 23 nmol/mg creatinine for SFN, SFN-glutathione, SFN-cysteine-glycine, SFN-cysteine, and SFN- N-acetylcysteine, respectively. This method determines SFN and all four SFN glutathione-derived metabolites with minimal sample preparation and will be extremely useful in understanding the role of SFN-rich foods in preventing cancer and other chronic diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / chemistry
  • Acetylcysteine / urine*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Humans
  • Indicator Dilution Techniques
  • Isotopes
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Urine / chemistry*


  • Isotopes
  • Acetylcysteine