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Chem Res Toxicol. 1998 Jun;11(6):651-8.

Biotransformation of 12C- and 2-13C-labeled methyl tert-butyl ether, ethyl tert-butyl ether, and tert-butyl alcohol in rats: identification of metabolites in urine by 13C nuclear magnetic resonance and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.

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Institut für Toxikologie, Universität Würzburg, Versbacher Strasse 9, 97078 Würzburg, Germany.


The biotransformation of the fuel oxygenates methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE) was studied in rats after inhalation exposure; the biotransformation of the initial metabolite of these ethers, tert-butyl alcohol, was studied after oral gavage. To study ether metabolism, rats were exposed for 6 h to initial concentrations of 2000 ppm of MTBE or ETBE, respectively [2-13C]MTBE and [2-13C]ETBE. Urine was collected for 48 h after the end of the exposure, and urinary metabolites were identified by 13C NMR (13C-labeled ethers) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) (12C- and 13C-labeled ethers). To study tert-butyl alcohol metabolism, rats were dosed either with tert-butyl alcohol at natural carbon isotope ratio or with 13C-enriched tert-butyl alcohol (250 mg/kg of body weight), urine was collected, and metabolites were identified by NMR and GC/MS. tert-Butyl alcohol was identified as a minor product of the biotransformation of MTBE and ETBE. In addition, small amounts of a tert-butyl alcohol conjugate, likely a glucuronide, were present in the urine of the treated animals. Moreover, the mass spectra obtained indicate the presence of small amounts of [13C]acetone in the urine of [13C]MTBE and [13C]ETBE-treated rats. 2-Methyl-1,2-propanediol, 2-hydroxyisobutyrate, and another unidentified conjugate of tert-butyl alcohol, most probably a sulfate, were major urinary metabolites of MTBE and ETBE as judged by the intensities of the NMR signals. In [13C]-tert-butyl alcohol-dosed rats, [13C]acetone, tert-butyl alcohol, and its glucuronide represented minor metabolites; as with the ethers, 2-methyl-1,2-propanediol, 2-hydroxyisobutyrate, and the presumed tert-butyl alcohol sulfate were the major metabolites present. In one human individual given 5 mg/kg [13C]-tert-butyl alcohol orally, 2-methyl-1,2-propanediol and 2-hydroxyisobutyrate were major metabolites in urine detected by 13C NMR analysis. Unconjugated tert-butyl alcohol and tert-butyl alcohol glucuronide were present as minor metabolites, and traces of the presumed tert-butyl alcohol sulfate were also present. Our results suggest that tert-butyl alcohol formed from MTBE and ETBE is intensively metabolized by further oxidation reactions. Studies to elucidate mechanisms of toxicity for these ethers to the kidney need to consider potential toxicities induced by these metabolites.

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