The role of bile acids in cell metabolism, membrane biology and cell signaling is increasingly recognized, thus making necessary a robust and versatile technique to extract, separate and quantify a large concentration range of these numerous molecular species. HPLC-MS/MS analysis provides the highest sensitivity to detect and identify bile acids. However, due to their large chemical diversity, extraction methods are critical and quite difficult to optimize, as shown by a survey of the literature. This paper compares the performances of four bile acid extraction protocols applied to either liquid (serum, urine, bile) or solid (stool) samples. Acetonitrile was found to be the best solvent for deproteinizing liquid samples and NaOH the best one for stool extraction. These optimized extraction procedures allowed us to quantitate as much as 27 distinct bile acids including sulfated species in a unique 30 min HPLC run, including both hydrophilic and hydrophobic species with a high efficiency. Tandem MS provided a non ambiguous identification of each metabolite with a good sensitivity (LOQ below 20 nmol/l except for THDCA and TLCA). After validation, these methods, successfully applied to a group of 39 control patients, detected 14 different species in serum in the range of 30-800 nmol/l, 11 species in urine in the range of 20-200 nmol/l and 25 species in stool in the range of 0.4-2000 nmol/g. The clinical interest of this method has been then validated on cholestatic patients. The proposed protocols seem suitable for profiling bile acids in routine analysis.
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