Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry in the clinical laboratory

Ann Clin Biochem. 2015 Jan;52(Pt 1):18-38. doi: 10.1177/0004563214557678. Epub 2014 Oct 13.


Clinical laboratory medicine has seen the introduction and evolution of liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry in routine clinical laboratories over the last 10-15 years. There still exists a wide diversity of assays from very esoteric and highly specialist manual assays to more simplified kit-based assays. The technology is not static as manufacturers are continually making improvements. Mass spectrometry is now commonly used in several areas of diagnostics including therapeutic drug monitoring, toxicology, endocrinology, paediatrics and microbiology. Some of the most high throughput analyses or common analytes include vitamin D, immunosuppressant monitoring, androgen measurement and newborn screening. It also offers flexibility for the measurement of analytes in a variety of different matrices which would prove difficult with immunoassays. Unlike immunoassays or high-pressure liquid chromatography assays using ultraviolet or fluorescence detection, mass spectrometry offers better specificity and reduced interferences if attention is paid to potential isobaric compounds. Furthermore, multiplexing, which enables multiple analytes to be measured with the same volume of serum is advantageous, and the requirement for large sample volumes is decreasing as instrument sensitivity increases. There are many emerging applications in the literature. Using mass spectrometry to identify novel isoforms or modified peptides is possible as is quantification of proteins and peptides, with or without protein digests. Future developments by the manufacturers may also include mechanisms to improve the throughput of samples and strategies to decrease the level of skill required by the operators.

Keywords: Liquid chromatography; applications; future developments; tandem mass spectrometry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / blood
  • Androgens / urine
  • Chromatography, Liquid / instrumentation
  • Chromatography, Liquid / statistics & numerical data*
  • Clinical Laboratory Services*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / blood
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / urine
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Laboratories*
  • Neonatal Screening / instrumentation
  • Peptides / blood
  • Peptides / urine
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / instrumentation
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vitamin D / blood


  • Androgens
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Peptides
  • Vitamin D