Current use of high-resolution mass spectrometry in drug screening relevant to clinical and forensic toxicology and doping control

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2012 May;403(5):1203-20. doi: 10.1007/s00216-012-5726-z.


Clinical and forensic toxicology and doping control deal with hundreds or thousands of drugs that may cause poisoning or are abused, are illicit, or are prohibited in sports. Rapid and reliable screening for all these compounds of different chemical and pharmaceutical nature, preferably in a single analytical method, is a substantial effort for analytical toxicologists. Combined chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques with standardised reference libraries have been most commonly used for the purpose. In the last ten years, the focus has shifted from gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, because of progress in instrument technology and partly because of the polarity and low volatility of many new relevant substances. High-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS), which enables accurate mass measurement at high resolving power, has recently evolved to the stage that is rapidly causing a shift from unit-resolution, quadrupole-dominated instrumentation. The main HRMS techniques today are time-of-flight mass spectrometry and Orbitrap Fourier-transform mass spectrometry. Both techniques enable a range of different drug-screening strategies that essentially rely on measuring a compound's or a fragment's mass with sufficiently high accuracy that its elemental composition can be determined directly. Accurate mass and isotopic pattern acts as a filter for confirming the identity of a compound or even identification of an unknown. High mass resolution is essential for improving confidence in accurate mass results in the analysis of complex biological samples. This review discusses recent applications of HRMS in analytical toxicology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Doping in Sports / prevention & control*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Forensic Toxicology / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / analysis
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations