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J Chromatogr A. 2006 May 26;1116(1-2):57-68. Epub 2006 Apr 24.

Separation and characterization of silybin, isosilybin, silydianin and silychristin in milk thistle extract by liquid chromatography-electrospray tandem mass spectrometry.

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Division of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Abramson Research Center 916H, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4399, USA.


A selective and sensitive liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) method has been developed for the characterization of silymarin in commercially available milk thistle extract. In this study, six main active constituents, including silydianin, silychristin, diastereomers of silybin (silybin A and B) and diastereomers of isosilybin (isosilybin A and B) in silymarin, were completely separated on a YMC ODS-AQ HPLC column using a gradient mobile phase system comprised of ammonium acetate and methanol/water/formic acid. Identification and characterization of the major constituents were based not only on the product ion scan, which provided unique fragmentation information of a selected molecular ion, but also on the specific fragmentation of multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) data, which confirmed the retention times of LC chromatographic peaks. The method was applied in the analysis of human plasma samples in the presence of silymarin and appeared to be suitable for the pharmacokinetic studies in which the discrimination of silymarin constituents is essential.

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