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J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2011 Nov 15;879(30):3574-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2011.09.046. Epub 2011 Oct 1.

Quantification of nicotine, cotinine, trans-3'-hydroxycotinine and varenicline in human plasma by a sensitive and specific UPLC-tandem mass-spectrometry procedure for a clinical study on smoking cessation.

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Centre for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, CHUV, University of Lausanne, Hospital of Cery, Prilly, Switzerland.


A sensitive and specific ultra performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method for the simultaneous quantification of nicotine, its metabolites cotinine and trans-3'-hydroxycotinine and varenicline in human plasma was developed and validated. Sample preparation was realized by solid phase extraction of the target compounds and of the internal standards (nicotine-d4, cotinine-d3, trans-3'-hydroxycotinine-d3 and CP-533,633, a structural analog of varenicline) from 0.5 mL of plasma, using a mixed-mode cation exchange support. Chromatographic separations were performed on a hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography column (HILIC BEH 2.1×100 mm, 1.7 μm). A gradient program was used, with a 10 mM ammonium formate buffer pH 3/acetonitrile mobile phase at a flow of 0.4 mL/min. The compounds were detected on a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer, operated with an electrospray interface in positive ionization mode and quantification was performed using multiple reaction monitoring. Matrix effects were quantitatively evaluated with success, with coefficients of variation inferior to 8%. The procedure was fully validated according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines and to Société Française des Sciences et Techniques Pharmaceutiques. The concentration range was 2-500 ng/mL for nicotine, 1-1000 ng/mL for cotinine, 2-1000 ng/mL for trans-3'-hydroxycotinine and 1-500 ng/mL for varenicline, according to levels usually measured in plasma. Trueness (86.2-113.6%), repeatability (1.9-12.3%) and intermediate precision (4.4-15.9%) were found to be satisfactory, as well as stability in plasma. The procedure was successfully used to quantify nicotine, its metabolites and varenicline in more than 400 plasma samples from participants in a clinical study on smoking cessation.

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