Subpicogram per milliliter determination of the tobacco-specific carcinogen metabolite 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol in human urine using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2008 Nov 1;80(21):8115-21. doi: 10.1021/ac8009005. Epub 2008 Oct 8.


Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke (SHS) has been linked to increased risk for a number of diseases, including lung cancer. The tobacco-specific nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) is of particular interest due to its potency and its specificity in producing lung tumors in animals. The NNK metabolite 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) in urine is frequently used as a biomarker for exposure. Due to its long half-life (40-45 days), NNAL may provide a long-term, time-averaged measure of exposure. We developed a highly sensitive liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method for determination of NNAL in human urine. The method involves liquid-liquid extraction followed by conversion to the hexanoate ester derivative. This derivative facilitates separation from interfering urinary constituents by extraction and chromatography and enhances detection with electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. The lower limit of quantitation is 0.25 pg/mL for 5-mL urine specimens. Applications to studies of people with a range of different SHS exposure levels is described.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Calibration
  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Liquid / instrumentation*
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nitrosamines / chemistry
  • Nitrosamines / urine*
  • Pyridines / chemistry
  • Pyridines / urine*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / instrumentation*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Tobacco / chemistry*


  • Carcinogens
  • Nitrosamines
  • Pyridines
  • 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butan-1-ol