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J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2012 Jan 15;881-882:42-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2011.11.036. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

Simultaneous analysis of cortisol and cortisone in saliva using XLC-MS/MS for fully automated online solid phase extraction.

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Department of Clinical Biochemistry, University Hospital of South Manchester, Southmoor Road, Wythenshawe, Manchester M23 9LT, United Kingdom.


Salivary cortisol measurements are increasingly being used in the investigation of disorders of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In the salivary gland, cortisol is metabolised to cortisone by the action of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2, and cortisone is partly responsible for the variable interference observed in current salivary cortisol immunoassays. The aim of this study was to validate an assay for the simultaneous analysis of salivary cortisol and cortisone using the Spark Holland Symbiosis™ in eXtraction liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (XLC-MS/MS) mode for fully automated online solid phase extraction (SPE). Saliva samples were diluted in water with the addition of internal standard (d4-cortisol and d7-cortisone). Online SPE was performed using the Spark Holland Symbiosis™ with HySphere™ C18 SPE cartridges and compounds were eluted onto a Phenomenex® C18 guard column attached to a Phenomenex® Onyx monolithic C18 column for chromatography. Mass spectrometry used the Waters® Xevo™ TQ MS in electrospray positive mode. Cortisol and cortisone eluted with their internal standards at 1.95 and 2.17 min, respectively, with a total run time of four minutes. No evidence of ion-suppression was observed. The assay was linear up to 3393 nmol/L for cortisol and 3676 nmol/L for cortisone, with lower limits of quantitation of 0.75 nmol/L and 0.50 nmol/L, respectively. Intra- and inter-assay imprecision was <8.9% for cortisol and <6.5% for cortisone across three levels of internal quality control, with accuracy and recovery within accepted limits. High specificity was demonstrated following interference studies which assessed 29 structurally-related steroids at supra-physiological concentrations. We have successfully validated an assay for the simultaneous analysis of salivary cortisol and cortisone using XLC-MS/MS and fully automated online SPE. The assay benefits from increased specificity compared to immunoassay and minimal sample preparation which allows high sample throughput and is thus suitable for use in a routine clinical laboratory.

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