Capillary electrophoretic (CE) separations were successfully coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometric (TOFMS) detection for the analysis of three families of biological compounds that act as mediators and/or indicators of disease, namely, catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine) and their O-methoxylated metabolites (3-methoxytyramine, norepinephrine, and normetanephrine), indolamines (serotonin, tryptophan, and 5-hydroxytryptophan), and angiotensin peptides. While electrophoretic separation techniques provided high separation efficiency, mass spectrometric detection afforded specificity unsurpassed by other types of detectors.

Both catecholamines and indolamines are present in body fluids at concentrations that make it possible for them to be determined by capillary zone electrophoresis coupled to TOFMS without employing any preconcentration scheme beyond sample work up by solid phase extraction (SPE). Using this hyphenated approach, submicromolar levels of catecholamines and metanephrines in normal human urine and indolamines in human plasma were detected after the removal of the analytes from their biological matrices and after preconcentration by SPE on mixed mode cation-exchange sorbents. The CE-TOFMS and SPE methods were individualized for each group of compounds. While catecholamines and metanephrines in urine samples were quantitated using 3,4-dihydroxybenzylamine as an internal standard, deuterated isotopes, considered ideal internal standards, were used for the quantitation of indolamines.

Because the angiotensin peptides are present in biological fluids at much lower concentrations than the previous two families of analytes, their analysis required the application of additional preconcentration techniques. In this work, the coupling of either of two types of electrophoretic preconcentration methods - field amplified injection (FAI) and isotachophoresis (ITP) - to capillary zone electrophoresis with both UV and MS detection was evaluated. Using FAI-CE-UV, angiotensins were detected at ~1 nM concentrations. Using similar conditions but TOFMS detection, the detection limits were below 10 nM. ITP was evaluated in both single-column and two-column comprehensive arrangements. The detection limits achieved for the ITP-based techniques were approximately one order of magnitude higher than for the FAI-based preconcentration. While the potential usefulness of these techniques was demonstrated using angiotensins standards, substantial additional research would be required to allow these approaches to be applied to plasma as part of clinical assays.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Chemistry and Biochemistry



Date Submitted


Document Type





capillary electrophoresis, field amplified injection, isotachophoresis, time-of-flight mass spectrometry, electrospray ionization, catecholamines, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, metanephrine, normetanephrine, indolamines, serotonin, tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan, angiotensins, plasma, urine, solid phase extraction