High-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC) is a widely used, fast and relatively inexpensive method of separating complex mixtures. It is particularly useful for smaller, apolar compounds and offers some advantages over HPLC. This review gives an overview about the special features as well as the problems that have to be considered upon the HPTLC analysis of lipids. The term "lipids" is used here in a broad sense and comprises fatty acids and their derivatives as well as substances related biosynthetically or functionally to these compounds. After a short introduction regarding the stationary phases and the methods how lipids can be visualized on an HPTLC plate, the individual lipid classes will be discussed and the most suitable solvent systems for their separation indicated. The focus will be on lipids that are most abundant in biological systems, i.e. cholesterol and its derivates, glycerides, sphingo- and glycolipids as well as phospholipids. Finally, a nowadays very important topic, the combination between HPTLC and mass spectrometric (MS) detection methods will be discussed. It will be shown that this is a very powerful method to investigate the identities of the HPTLC spots in more detail than by the use of common staining methods. Future aspects of HPTLC in the lipid field will be also discussed.
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