Identification of phototransformation products of sildenafil (Viagra) and its N-demethylated human metabolite under simulated sunlight

J Mass Spectrom. 2012 Jun;47(6):701-11. doi: 10.1002/jms.2998.


Recent publications on pharmaceutical monitoring are increasingly covering the field of illicit drugs and lately the forensic evaluation of designing illegal analogs of lifestyle drugs like the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil). Recently, the presence of all three erectile dysfunction treatment drugs has been reported in wastewaters at very low concentrations. In the environment, contaminants undergo various physical or chemical processes classified into abiotic (photolysis, hydrolysis) and biotic (biodegradation) reactions. Thus, changes in the chemical structure lead to the formation of new transformation products, which may persist in the environment or be further degraded. This study describes the photolysis of sildenafil (SDF) and its human metabolite N-demethylsildenafil (DM-SDF) under simulated solar radiation (Xenon lamp). Following chromatographic separation of the irradiated samples, eight photoproducts in the SDF samples and six photoproducts for DM-SDF were detected and characterized. The combination of ultra performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-quadrupole time-of-flight-mass spectrometry (UPLC-ESI-QToF-MS), liquid chromatography-atmospheric pressure chemical ionization-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (LC-APCI-QqQ-MS) and hydrogen/deuterium-exchange experiments allowed to propose plausible chemical structures for the photoproducts, taking into account the characteristic fragmentation patterns and the accurate mass measurements. These mass spectral data provided sound evidence for the susceptibility of the piperazine ring toward photodegradation. A gradual breakdown of this heterocyclic structure gave rise to a series of products, which in part were identical for SDF and DM-SDF. The sulfonic acid, as the formal product of sulfonamide hydrolysis, was identified as key intermediate in the photolysis pathway. In both drug/metabolite molecules, phototransformation processes taking place beyond the sulfonamide group were deemed to be of minor relevance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Humans
  • Photolysis
  • Piperazines / chemistry*
  • Piperazines / radiation effects*
  • Purines / chemistry
  • Purines / radiation effects
  • Pyrimidinones / chemistry*
  • Pyrimidinones / radiation effects*
  • Sildenafil Citrate
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Sulfones / chemistry*
  • Sulfones / radiation effects*
  • Sunlight


  • Piperazines
  • Purines
  • Pyrimidinones
  • Sulfones
  • UK 103320
  • Sildenafil Citrate