The use of in vitro technologies and high-resolution/accurate-mass LC-MS to screen for metabolites of 'designer' steroids in the equine

Adam Clarke, James Scarth, Phil Teale, Clive Pearce, Lynn Hillyer
Drug Testing and Analysis 2011, 3 (1): 74-87
Detection of androgenic-anabolic steroid abuse in equine sports requires knowledge of the drug's metabolism in order to target appropriate metabolites, especially where urine is the matrix of choice. Studying 'designer' steroid metabolism is problematic since it is difficult to obtain ethical approval for in vivo metabolism studies due to a lack of toxicological data. In this study, the equine in vitro metabolism of eight steroids available for purchase on the Internet is reported; including androsta-1,4,6-triene-3,17-dione, 4-chloro,17α-methyl-androsta-1,4-diene-3,17β-diol, estra-4,9-diene-3,17-dione, 4-hydroxyandrostenedione, 20-hydroxyecdysone, 11-keto-androstenedione, 17α-methyldrostanolone, and tetrahydrogestrinone. In order to allow for retrospective analysis of sample testing data, the use of a high-resolution (HR) accurate-mass Thermo LTQ-Orbitrap liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) instrument was employed for metabolite identification of underivatized sample extracts. The full scan LC-HRMS Orbitrap data were complimented by LC-HRMS/MS and gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) experiments in order to provide fragmentation information and to ascertain whether GC-MS was capable of detecting any metabolite not detected by LC-HRMS. With the exception of 20-hydroxyecdysone, all compounds were found to be metabolized by equine liver S9 and/or microsomes. With the exception of 17α-methyldrostanolone, which produced metabolites that could only be detected by GC-MS, the metabolites of all other compounds could be identified using LC-HRMS, thus allowing retrospective analysis of previously acquired full-scan data resulting from routine equine drug testing screens. In summary, while in vitro techniques do not serve as a replacement for more definitive in vivo studies in all situations, their use does offer an alternative in situations where it would not be ethical to administer untested drugs to animals.

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