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J Chromatogr A. 2018 Jun 15;1554:101-116. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2018.04.035. Epub 2018 Apr 17.

Methods in endogenous steroid profiling - A comparison of gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) with supercritical fluid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (SFC-MS/MS).

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Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of Pharmacy, Königin-Luise-Str. 2+4, 14195 Berlin, Germany.
Agilent Technologies GmbH, Hewlett-Packard-Str. 8, 76337 Waldbronn, Germany.
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), Neuropathology, and German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany.
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Berlin, Germany; Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité, Hindenburgdamm 30, 12203 Berlin, Germany.
Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of Pharmacy, Königin-Luise-Str. 2+4, 14195 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


In various fields of endocrinology, the determination of steroid hormones synthesised by the human body plays an important role. Research on central neurosteroids has been intensified within the last years, as they are discussed as biomarkers for various cognitive disorders. Their concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are considered to be regulated independently from peripheral fluids. For that reason, the challenging matrix CSF becomes a very interesting specimen for analysis. Concentrations are expected to be very low and available amount of CSF is limited. Thus, a comprehensive method for very sensitive quantification of a set of analytes as large as possible in one analytical aliquot is desired. However, high structural similarities of the selected panel of 51 steroids and steroid sulfates, including numerous isomers, challenges achievement of chromatographic selectivity. Since decades the analysis of endogenous steroids in various body fluids is mainly performed by gas chromatography (GC) coupled to (tandem) mass spectrometry (MS(/MS)). Due to the structure of the steroids of interest, derivatisation is performed to meet the analytical requirements for GC-MS(/MS). Most of the laboratories use a two-step derivatisation in multi-analyte assays that was already published in the 1980s. However, for some steroids this elaborate procedure yields multiple isomeric derivatives. Thus, some laboratories utilize (ultra) high performance liquid chromatography ((U)HPLC)-MS/MS as alternative but, even UHPLC is not able to separate some of the isomeric pairs. Supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) as an orthogonal separation technique to GC and (U)HPLC may help to overcome these issues. Within this project the two most promising methods for endogenous steroid profiling were investigated and compared: the "gold standard" GC-MS and the orthogonal separation technique SFC-MS/MS. Different derivatisation procedures for gas chromatographic detection were explored and the formation of multiple derivatives described and confirmed. Taken together, none of the investigated derivatisation procedures provided acceptable results for further method development to meet the requirements of this project. SFC with its unique selectivity was able to overcome these issues and to distinguish all selected steroids, including (pro-)gestagens, androgens, corticoids, estrogens, and steroid sulfates with appropriate selectivity. Valued especially in the separation of enantiomeric analytes, SFC has shown its potential as alternative to GC. The successful separation of 51 steroids and steroid sulfates on different columns is presented to demonstrate the potential of SFC in endogenous steroid profiling.


Endogenous steroids; GC-EI-MS; Method development; SFC-ESI–MS/MS; Steroid profiling

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