Liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry quantitation of urinary [pyridine-D4]4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl)butanoic acid, a biomarker of 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone metabolic activation in smokers

Chem Res Toxicol. 2014 Sep 15;27(9):1547-55. doi: 10.1021/tx5001915. Epub 2014 Aug 25.


4-(Methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK, 1) is a potent tobacco-specific lung carcinogen believed to play a key role in the development of lung cancer in smokers. Metabolic activation of NNK to DNA damaging reactive intermediates proceeds via α-hydroxylation pathways. The end products of these pathways are excreted in the urine of smokers as 4-oxo-4-(3-pyridyl)butanoic acid (keto acid, 3) and 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl)butanoic acid (hydroxy acid, 4). The sum of these biomarkers (after NaBH4 treatment), referred to as total hydroxy acid, could potentially be used to measure the extent of NNK metabolic activation in smokers. However, the same metabolites are formed from nicotine; therefore, there is a need to distinguish the NNK- and nicotine-derived keto and hydroxy acid in smokers' urine. We previously developed a unique methodology based on the use of [pyridine-D4]NNK ([D4]1), which metabolizes to the correspondingly labeled biomarkers. In this study, we developed a sensitive and reproducible assay for the detection and quantitation of total [pyridine-D4]hydroxy acid ([D4]4) in human urine. A two-step derivatization approach was used to convert [D4]4 to [pyridine-D4]methyl 4-hexanoyl-4-(3-pyridyl)butanoate ([D4]6), and an LC-ESI-MS/MS method was developed for the analysis of this derivative with excellent sensitivity, accuracy, and precision. The robustness and reproducibility of the assay was further confirmed by its application for the analysis of urine samples from 87 smokers who smoked [D4]1-containing cigarettes for 1 week. The measured level averaged 130 fmol/mL urine. The developed assay can be used in future studies that may require evaluation of the relative efficiency of NNK metabolic activation in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybutyrates / urine*
  • Nitrosamines / chemistry
  • Nitrosamines / metabolism*
  • Pyridines / urine*
  • Smoking
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization


  • 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl)butanoic acid
  • Biomarkers
  • Hydroxybutyrates
  • Nitrosamines
  • Pyridines
  • 4-(N-methyl-N-nitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone