A Validated, Fast Method for Quantification of Sterols and Gut Microbiome Derived 5α/β-Stanols in Human Feces by Isotope Dilution LC-High-Resolution MS

Anal Chem. 2018 Jul 17;90(14):8487-8494. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b01278. Epub 2018 Jul 3.


There has been an increasing interest during recent years in the role of the gut microbiome on health and disease. Therefore, metabolites in human feces related to microbial activity are attractive surrogate marker to track changes of microbiota induced by diet or disease. Such markers include 5α/β-stanols as microbiome-derived metabolites of sterols. Currently, reliable, robust, and fast methods to quantify fecal sterols and their related metabolites are missing. We developed a liquid chromatography-high-resolution mass spectrometry (LC-MS/HRMS) method for the quantification of sterols and their 5α/β-stanols in human fecal samples. Fecal sterols were extracted and derivatized to N, N-dimethylglycine esters. The method includes cholesterol, coprostanol, cholestanol and sitosterol, 5α/β-sitostanol, campesterol and 5α/β-campestanol. Application of a biphenyl column permits separation of isomeric 5α- and 5β-stanols. Sterols are detected in parallel reaction monitoring (PRM) mode and stanols in full scan mode. HRMS allows differentiation of isobaric β-stanols and the [M + 2] isotope peak of the coeluting sterol. Performance characteristics meet the criteria recommended by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) guidelines. Analysis of fecal samples from healthy volunteers revealed high interindividual variability of sterol and stanol fractions. Interestingly, cholesterol and sitosterol showed similar fractions of mainly 5β-stanols. In contrast, campesterol is substantially converted to 5α-campestanol and might be a poorer substrate for bacterial metabolism. Robust and fast quantification of fecal sterols and their related stanols by LC-MS/HRMS offers great potential to find novel microbiome-related biomarker in large-scale studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Cholesterol / analogs & derivatives
  • Cholesterol / analysis
  • Chromatography, Liquid / economics
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Limit of Detection
  • Phytosterols / analysis
  • Sitosterols / analysis
  • Sterols / analysis*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / economics
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Phytosterols
  • Sitosterols
  • Sterols
  • campestanol
  • campesterol
  • gamma-sitosterol
  • Cholesterol
  • stigmastanol