Metabolic characterization of AH-7921, a synthetic opioid designer drug: in vitro metabolic stability assessment and metabolite identification, evaluation of in silico prediction, and in vivo confirmation

Drug Test Anal. 2016 Aug;8(8):779-91. doi: 10.1002/dta.1856. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


AH-7921 (3,4-dichloro-N-[(1-dimethylamino)cyclohexylmethyl]benzamide) is a new synthetic opioid and has led to multiple non-fatal and fatal intoxications. To comprehensively study AH-7921 metabolism, we assessed human liver microsome (HLM) metabolic stability, determined AH-7921's metabolic profile after human hepatocytes incubation, confirmed our findings in a urine case specimen, and compared results to in silico predictions. For metabolic stability, 1 µmol/L AH-7921 was incubated with HLM for up to 1 h; for metabolite profiling, 10 µmol/L was incubated with pooled human hepatocytes for up to 3 h. Hepatocyte samples were analyzed by liquid chromatography quadrupole/time-of-flight high-resolution mass spectrometry (MS). High-resolution full scan MS and information-dependent acquisition MS/MS data were analyzed with MetabolitePilot™ (SCIEX) using multiple data processing algorithms. The presence of AH-7921 and metabolites was confirmed in the urine case specimen. In silico prediction of metabolite structures was performed with MetaSite™ (Molecular Discovery). AH-7921 in vitro half-life was 13.5 ± 0.4 min. We identified 12 AH-7921 metabolites after hepatocyte incubation, predominantly generated by demethylation, less dominantly by hydroxylation, and combinations of different biotransformations. Eleven of 12 metabolites identified in hepatocytes were found in the urine case specimen. One metabolite, proposed to be di-demethylated, N-hydroxylated and glucuronidated, eluted after AH-7921 and was the most abundant metabolite in non-hydrolyzed urine. MetaSite™ correctly predicted the two most abundant metabolites and the majority of observed biotransformations. The two most dominant metabolites after hepatocyte incubation (also identified in the urine case specimen) were desmethyl and di-desmethyl AH-7921. Together with the glucuronidated metabolites, these are likely suitable analytical targets for documenting AH-7921 intake. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: high resolution mass spectrometry; human hepatocytes; in silico prediction; metabolism; synthetic opioids.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / chemistry
  • Analgesics, Opioid / metabolism*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / urine
  • Benzamides / chemistry
  • Benzamides / metabolism*
  • Benzamides / urine
  • Cell Line
  • Computer Simulation
  • Designer Drugs / chemistry
  • Designer Drugs / metabolism*
  • Designer Drugs / pharmacokinetics
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metabolome
  • Models, Biological


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Benzamides
  • Designer Drugs
  • AH 7921