Formation of reactive impurities in aqueous and neat polyethylene glycol 400 and effects of antioxidants and oxidation inducers

J Pharm Sci. 2012 Sep;101(9):3305-18. doi: 10.1002/jps.23198. Epub 2012 May 18.


A 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH) precolumn derivatization high-performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet detection (HPLC-UV) method was developed to quantify levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in polyethylene glycol (PEG) solutions. Formic acid and acetic acid were quantified by HPLC-UV. Samples of neat and aqueous PEG 400 solutions were monitored at 40°C and 50°C to determine effects of excipient source, water content, pH, and trace levels of hydrogen peroxide or iron metal on the formation of reactive impurities. The effects of antioxidants were also evaluated. Formic acid was the major degradation product in nearly all cases. The presence of water increased the rate of formation of all impurities, especially formic acid as did the presence of hydrogen peroxide and trace metals. Acidic pH increased the formation of acetaldehyde and acetic acid. A distribution of unidentified degradation products formed in neat PEG 400 disappeared upon addition of HCl with corresponding increase of formic acid, indicating they were likely to be PEG-formyl esters. Other unidentified degradation products reacted with DNPH to form a distribution of derivatized products likely to be PEG aldehydes. Antioxidants butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene, propyl gallate d-alpha tocopheryl polyethylene glycol-1000 succinate, and sodium metabisulfite were effective in limiting reactive impurity formation, whereas ascorbic acid and acetic acid were not.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / chemistry
  • Acetic Acid / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / chemistry*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Drug Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Excipients / chemistry*
  • Formaldehyde / chemistry
  • Formates / chemistry
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / chemistry
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kinetics
  • Oxidants / chemistry*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • Sulfites / chemistry
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / methods
  • Temperature
  • Water / chemistry


  • Antioxidants
  • Excipients
  • Formates
  • Oxidants
  • Sulfites
  • Water
  • formic acid
  • Formaldehyde
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • sodium metabisulfite
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Acetic Acid