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Anal Biochem. 2001 Mar;290(2):251-9.

Determination of reduced, protein-unbound, and total concentrations of N-acetyl-L-cysteine and L-cysteine in rat plasma by postcolumn ligand substitution high-performance liquid chromatography.

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Naruto Research Institute, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Factory, Inc., 115 Tateiwa, Muya-cho, Naruto, Tokushima772-8601, Japan.


A high-performance liquid chromatographic assay was developed for the quantitative determination of the sulfur-containing amino acids N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and L-cysteine (Cys) in rat plasma. The thiols were separated by reverse-phase ion-pair chromatography, and the column eluent was continuously mixed with an iodoplatinate-containing solution. The substitution of sulfur of the thiol compound with iodide was quantitatively determined by measuring changes in the absorption at 500 nm. The low-molecular-weight disulfides and mixed disulfide conjugates of thiols with proteins were entirely reduced to the original reduced compounds by dithiothreitol. By reducing these two types of disulfides separately during sample pretreatment, the reduced, protein-unbound, and total thiol concentrations could also be determined. Validation testing was performed, and no problems were encountered. The limit of detection was approximately 20 pmol of thiol on the column. The present method was used to measure the plasma concentrations of NAC and Cys in the rat after a bolus intravenous administration of NAC, focusing on disulfide formation. The binding of NAC to protein through mixed disulfide formation proceeds in a time-dependent and reversible manner. Moreover, this "stable" covalent binding might limit total drug elimination, while the unbound NAC is rapidly eliminated. Consequently, the analytical method described in this study is very useful for the determination of plasma NAC and Cys, including disulfide conjugates derived from them.

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