Quantification of tacrolimus and three demethylated metabolites in human whole blood using LC-ESI-MS/MS

Ther Drug Monit. 2012 Apr;34(2):134-42. doi: 10.1097/FTD.0b013e31824b0bfb.


Background: A bioalanytical method for the quantification of tacrolimus (TAC) and 3 metabolites, 13-O, 15-O, and 31-O-demethylated TAC (M-I, M-III, and M-II) in human whole blood using liquid chromatography, electrospray ionization, tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS) was developed and validated.

Method: The analytes were extracted from 85 μL of blood by protein precipitation followed by solid-phase extraction and a concentration step. The analytes and the internal standard (IS, ascomycin) were separated on a C18 column using a slow gradient mobile phase elution, with an analysis time of 3.3 minutes. The ammonium-adduct ions with transitions of m/z 821.5 > 768.7 (TAC), 807.5 > 754.7 (M-I, M-III, M-II), and 809.4 > 756.7 (IS) were measured in selected reaction monitoring mode using electrospray ionization.

Results: Measuring ranges were 0.1-50 ng/mL for M-II, M-III, and TAC and 0.15-39 ng/mL for M-I. Imprecision in quantification was <20% for all analytes, whereas accuracy was within ±20%. Recovery was calculated to be >50% for all analytes. The sample's stability was proven for 1 month at -20°C and 72 hours at room temperature. Three freeze-thaw cycles had no significant effect on the stability. The prepared samples were stable at least 16 hours at 8°C. Analysis of 53 patient samples resulted in average concentrations of 7.2 for TAC, 0.8 for M-I, 0.4 for M-III, and 0.2 ng/mL for M-II. The total metabolite concentration was 17% (4%-52%) of the TAC concentration. The TAC concentration measured by LC-MS/MS was 36.1% ± 27.1% lower than by immunochemical (enzyme multiplied immunoassay technique) analysis. When adding the metabolite crossreactivity in the presence of TAC, the difference between the 2 methods was still 29.8% ± 28.3%, indicating that the overestimation of TAC concentration of enzyme multiplied immunoassay technique compared with liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry cannot only be ascribed to the demethylated metabolites.

Conclusions: An LC-ESI-MS/MS method for the quantitative analysis of TAC and 3 metabolites, using a 2-step sample preparation was successfully developed, validated, and applied on 53 patient samples.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Drug Stability
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / metabolism
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods
  • Tacrolimus / metabolism
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacokinetics*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Time Factors


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Tacrolimus