Determination of catecholamines in plasma and urine

Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Oct;27(5):713-23. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2013.06.004. Epub 2013 Jul 9.


For more than 20 years, measurement of catecholamines in plasma and urine in clinical chemistry laboratories has been the cornerstone of the diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumors deriving from the neural crest such as pheochromocytoma (PHEO) and neuroblastoma (NB), and is still used to assess sympathetic stress function in man and animals. Although assay of catecholamines in urine are still considered the biochemical standard for the diagnosis of NB, they have been progressively abandoned for excluding/confirming PHEOs to the advantage of metanephrines (MNs). Nevertheless, catecholamine determinations are still of interest to improve the biochemical diagnosis of PHEO in difficult cases that usually require a clonidine-suppression test, or to establish whether a patient with PHEO secretes high concentrations of catecholamines in addition to metanephrines. The aim of this chapter is to provide an update about the catecholamine assays in plasma and urine and to show the most common pre-analytical and analytical pitfalls associated with their determination.

Keywords: catecholamines; dopamine; epinephrine; metanephrines; neuroblastoma; norepinephrine; pheochromocytoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Catecholamines / blood*
  • Catecholamines / urine*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Metanephrine / blood
  • Metanephrine / urine
  • Neuroblastoma / diagnosis
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Catecholamines
  • Metanephrine