Analysis and evaluation of trans,trans-muconic acid as a biomarker for benzene exposure

J Chromatogr B Biomed Sci Appl. 1998 Oct 9;717(1-2):179-99. doi: 10.1016/s0378-4347(98)00065-6.


Benzene is an important industrial chemical and, due to its occurrence in mineral oil and its formation in many combustion processes, a widespread environmental pollutant. Since benzene is hematoxic and has been classified as a human carcinogen, monitoring and control of benzene exposure is of importance. Although trans,trans-muconic acid (ttMA) was identified as a urinary metabolite of benzene at the beginning of this century, only recently has its application as a biomarker for occupational and environmental benzene exposure been investigated. The range of metabolic conversion of benzene to ttMA is about 2-25% and dependent on the benzene exposure level, simultaneous exposure to toluene, and probably also to genetic factors. For the quantitation of ttMA in urine, HPLC methods using UV and diode array detection as well as GC methods combined with MS or FID detection have been described. Sample pretreatment for both HPLC and GC analysis comprises centrifugation and enrichment by solid-phase extraction on anion-exchange sorbents. Described derivatization procedures prior to GC analysis include reaction with N,O-bis(trimethysilyl)acetamide, N,O-bis(trimethylsilyl)trifluoroacetamide, pentafluorobenzyl bromide and borontrifluoride-methanol. Reported limits of detection for HPLC methods range from 0.1 to 0.003 mg l(-1), whereas those reported for GC methods are 0.03-0.01 mg l(-1). Due to its higher specificity, GC methods appear to be more suitable for determination of low urinary ttMA levels caused by environmental exposure to benzene. In studies with occupational exposure to benzene (>0.1 ppm), good correlations between urinary ttMA excretion and benzene levels in breathing air are observed. From the reported regressions for these variables, mean excretion rates of ttMA of 1.9 mg g(-1) creatinine or 2.5 mg l(-1) at an exposure dose of 1 ppm over 8 h can be calculated. The smoking-related increase in urinary ttMA excretion reported in twelve studies ranged from 0.022 to 0.2 mg g(-1) creatinine. Only a few studies have investigated the effect of exposure to environmental levels of benzene (<0.01 ppm) on urinary ttMA excretion. A trend for slightly increased ttMA levels in subjects living in areas with high automobile traffic density was observed, whereas exposure to environmental tobacco smoke did not significantly increase the urinary ttMA excretion. It is concluded that urinary ttMA is a suitable biomarker for benzene exposure at occupational levels as low as 0.1 ppm. Biomonitoring of exposure to environmental benzene levels (<0.01 ppm) using urinary ttMA appears to be possible only if the ingestion of dietary sorbic acid, another precursor to urinary ttMA, is taken into account.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzene / metabolism*
  • Benzene / toxicity
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Sorbic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sorbic Acid / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • muconic acid
  • Benzene
  • Sorbic Acid