Quantitation of the Minor Tobacco Alkaloids Nornicotine, Anatabine, and Anabasine in Smokers’ Urine by High Throughput Liquid Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry

Research paper by Linda B. von Weymarn, Nicole M. Thomson, Eric C. Donny, Dorothy K. Hatsukami, Sharon E. Murphy

Indexed on: 09 Mar '16Published on: 29 Jan '16Published in: Chemical Research in Toxicology


Nicotine is the most abundant alkaloid in tobacco accounting for 95% of the alkaloid content. There are also several minor tobacco alkaloids; among these are nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine. We developed and applied a 96 well plate-based capillary LC-tandem mass spectrometry method for the analysis of nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine in urine. The method was validated with regard to accuracy and precision. Anabasine was quantifiable to low levels with a limit of quantitation (LOQ) of 0.2 ng/mL even when nicotine, which is isobaric, is present at concentrations >2500-fold higher than anabasine. This attribute of the method is important since anatabine and anabasine in urine have been proposed as biomarkers of tobacco use for individuals using nicotine replacement therapies. In the present study, we analyzed the three minor tobacco alkaloids in urine from 827 smokers with a wide range of tobacco exposures. Nornicotine (LOQ 0.6 ng/mL) was detected in all samples, and anatabine (LOQ, 0.15 ng/mL) and anabasine were detected in 97.7% of the samples. The median urinary concentrations of nornicotine, anatabine, and anabasine were 98.9, 4.02, and 5.53 ng/mL. Total nicotine equivalents (TNE) were well correlated with anatabine (r2 = 0.714) and anabasine (r2 = 0.760). TNE was most highly correlated with nornicotine, which is also a metabolite of nicotine. Urine samples from a subset of subjects (n = 110) were analyzed for the presence of glucuronide conjugates by quantifying any increase in anatabine and anabasine concentrations after β-glucuronidase treatment. The median ratio of the glucuronidated to free anatabine was 0.74 (range, 0.1 to 10.9), and the median ratio of glucuronidated to free anabasine was 0.3 (range, 0.1 to 2.9). To our knowledge, this is the largest population of smokers for whom the urinary concentrations of these three tobacco alkaloids has been reported.

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