Thymidine kinase 1 (TK1) is an enzyme involved in DNA synthesis whose activity in serum is indicative of tumor proliferation and the severity of blood malignancies. 3'-deoxy-3'-fluorothymidine (FLT), a specific exogenous substrate for TK1, is phosphorylated by TK1 in the presence of a phosphorylating buffer, therefore the conversion of FLT to 3'-deoxy-3'-fluorothymidine monophosphate (FLT-MP) can be measured to assess serum TK1 activity. Here we describe a liquid chromatography-MS/MS (LC-MS/MS) method for quantification of FLT and FLT-MP from serum using protein precipitation and column switching followed by detection on an Applied Biosystems SCIEX API 4000 QTrap mass spectrometer. The method was linear over the range of 0.5-500 ng/mL for FLT and 2.5-2000 ng/mL for FLT-MP with a mean correlation coefficient of 0.9964 and 0.9935 for FLT and FLT-MP, respectively. The lower limit of quantification was 0.5 ng/mL for FLT and 2.5 ng/mL for FLT-MP. Intra-assay accuracy and inter-assay accuracy was within ±12% for both FLT and FLT-MP. Intra-assay precision was 2.8% to 7.7% for FLT and 3.3% to 5.8% for FLT-MP. Inter-assay precision was 4.6% to 14.9% for FLT and 4.9% to 14.6% for FLT-MP. Serum TK1 activity was measured in serum from hepatocellular carcinoma patients and age-matched controls under standardized conditions. Elevated TK1 activity was detected in 26.3% of hepatocellular carcinoma samples compared to controls. This method provides a robust alternative to radiometric and immunochemical assays of serum TK1 activity.
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