The occurrence of structurally related synthetic cannabinoids makes the identification of unique markers of drug intake particularly challenging. The aim of this study was to identify unique and abundant metabolites of AKB-48 and 5F-AKB-48 for toxicological screening in urine. Investigations of authentic urine samples from forensic cases in combination with human liver microsome (HLM) experiments were used for identification of metabolites. HLM incubations of AKB-48 and 5F-AKB-48 along with 35 urine samples from authentic cases were analyzed with liquid chromatography quadrupole tandem time of flight mass spectrometry. Using HLMs 41 metabolites of AKB-48 and 37 metabolites of 5F-AKB-48 were identified, principally represented by hydroxylation but also ketone formation and dealkylation. Monohydroxylated metabolites were replaced by di- and trihydroxylated metabolites within 30 min. The metabolites from the HLM incubations accounted for on average 84% (range, 67-100) and 91% (range, 71-100) of the combined area in the case samples for AKB-48 and 5F-AKB-48, respectively. While defluorinated metabolites accounted for on average 74% of the combined area after a 5F-AKB-48 intake only a few identified metabolites were shared between AKB-48 and 5F-AKB-48, illustrating the need for a systematic approach to identify unique metabolites. HLMs in combination with case samples seem suitable for this purpose.
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