Ultra high performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry determination and profiling of prohibited steroids in human biological matrices. A review.J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2013 May 15; 927:22-36.JC
The use of doping agents, once restricted to professional athletes, has nowadays become a problem of public health, since it also concerns young people and non-competing amateurs in different sports. The use is also diffused in social life for improving physical appearance and enhancing performance and even dietary supplements assumed to improve performance often contain anabolic steroids. While decades ago the so-called "classical doping agents" (like stimulants and narcotics) were used, to-day anabolic steroids are more widely diffused. Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances prepared by introducing modifications in the molecular structure of testosterone, the main natural androgenic anabolic steroid that forms in testes interstitial cells. The first report concerning the use of anabolic steroids by an athlete who searched for increased weight and power dates 1954. In 1974 the misuse of anabolic steroids in sports was banned by the International Olympic Committee and control tests were implemented in 1976 Montreal Olympic Games through radioimmunoassay analysis: the technique, however, only allows for unspecific detection of a limited number of exogenous steroids. Over the years, always new doping substances are synthesized and, as a consequence, the list of prohibited compounds is continuously updated and new suitable analytical methods for their detection and determination in biological matrices are continuously required. In doping control analysis the knowledge of steroid metabolism pathway in human body is of primary importance and the analytical methods must permit the simultaneous detection and determination not only of the forbidden precursor agents but also of their metabolites. In addition, the potential presence and amount in the biological samples of species that can interfere in the analysis should be evaluated. Also the several anabolic steroids, specifically designed to circumvent doping control, put on the market have been incorporated in the list of the prohibited substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In WADA list steroids figure in three main classes, namely anabolic steroids, corticosteroids and substances with anti-estrogenic properties. It must be strongly reminded that assumption of doping agents not only leads to athletes the possible failing of doping tests but causes important health risk and WADA prohibited list establishes criteria to highlight the alteration of the natural steroid profile caused by exogenous administration. Doping control analyses are generally performed in urine, a matrix that provides a prolonged detection time window, and less often in blood, serum, plasma, hair, saliva, and nails. To identify the chemical structures of anabolic steroids the use of mass spectrometry detection is very advantageous. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) techniques allowed for the development of comprehensive screening methods. GC-MS methods are sensitive and robust but present the disadvantages of time-consuming sample pretreatment, that is often based on hydrolysis and derivatisation reactions. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) methods have been successfully used to identify and determinate steroids in different matrices, as well as to study their metabolisms. Nowadays, automatic rapid ultra high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) tandem mass spectrometry has become the technique of choice for steroid analysis. Due to its generally higher speed, sensitivity, reproducibility and specificity with respect to HPLC, it can be used to simultaneously separate and determinate multi component steroid mixtures. The technique is of huge interest to separate conjugates anabolic androgenic steroids, as it allows efficiency enhancement due to the small particle (sub-2μm) column packing, which provides high peak capacity within analysis times even 5-10 fold shorter than conventional HPLC methods. Modern multiplex instruments can analyze thousands of samples per month so that, notwithstanding the generally high instrumental costs, the cost of the individual assay is affordable. In addition, the improved specificity and resolution offered by time-of-flight or quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry allow their application in doping control analysis or in steroid profiling for accurate and sensitive full mass range acquisition. Aim of the present review is to consider, compare and discuss the applications of the UHPLC/MS methods present in literature for the identification and determination of forbidden steroids and their metabolites in human biological matrices.