Ultra-high performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry for comprehensive analysis of urinary acylcarnitines

Anal Chim Acta. 2011 Mar 9;689(1):77-84. doi: 10.1016/j.aca.2011.01.018. Epub 2011 Jan 18.


We report an enabling mass spectrometric method for the analysis of lipid metabolites in order to define better the lipid metabolome in terms of chemical diversity and generate fragment ion spectra of these metabolites as a potential resource for unknown metabolite identification. This work focuses on the analysis of one important class of lipid metabolites, the acylcarnitines. Current analytical methods have only detected and identified a limited number of these metabolites. The method described herein provides the most comprehensive acylcarnitine profile in urine of healthy individuals up to date. It involves an optimized solid phase extraction technique for selective analyte extraction using cartridges containing both lipophilic and cation-exchange properties. The captured analytes are then subjected to ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) separation, followed by tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) analysis using information-dependent acquisitions and selected reaction monitoring (SRM). The urine of six healthy individuals was analyzed using this method. A total of 355 acylcarnitines were detected; only 43 of them have been previously reported in the urine of healthy individuals. Detection of this large number of acylcarnitines illustrates the great diversity of the lipid metabolome as well as the usefulness of the method for profiling acylcarnitines. Furthermore, the MS/MS spectra of the 355 acylcarnitines will be uploaded to a public human metabolome database as a mass spectrometric resource for unknown metabolite identification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine / urine
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Metabolomics / classification
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Microsomes, Liver / metabolism
  • Solid Phase Extraction / methods
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Young Adult


  • acylcarnitine
  • Carnitine