Discrimination of eight chloramphenicol isomers by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry in order to investigate the natural occurence of chloramphenicol

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This paper describes the discrimination of eight different isomers of chloramphenicol (CAP), an antibiotic banned for use in food producing animals, by reversed phase and chiral liquid chromatography in combination with tandem mass spectrometric detection. Previously, by liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) the presence of CAP was confirmed in some grass and herb samples collected on Mongolian pastures up to concentrations of 450 µg kg-1. It was not possible to establish the cause of CAP residues which has initiated research on the natural occurrence of this drug. CAP occurs in the para-configuration and in the meta-configuration and contains two chiral centers thus eight different isomeric configurations exist, namely four (RR, SS, RS, SR) meta-stereoisomers and four para-stereoisomers. It is known that only RR-p-CAP has antimicrobial properties. To find out if the CAP detected in the plant material samples is the active configuration, a high resolution reversed phase LC-MS/MS system was tested for its ability to separate the different isomers. This system proved to be able to discriminate between some isomers, but not between RR-p-CAP and SS-p-CAP, also called dextramycin. Despite a detailed elucidation of the product ions and the fragmentation patterns of all isomers, MS/MS did not add sufficient specificity for full discrimination of the isomers. Therefore a chiral liquid chromatographic separation with MS/MS detection that is able to distinguish all isomers was developed and finally the isomeric ratio of non-compliant plant material samples and some CAP formulations was determined using this system. This showed that Mongolian grass and herb samples only contain the biological active isomer of CAP as do the obtained formulations. Therefore the CAP present in the plant material might origin from the production by soil organisms or from a manufactured source.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-85
JournalAnalytica Chimica Acta
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011



  • antibiotic chloramphenicol
  • residues
  • separation
  • meat
  • dextramycin
  • seafood
  • urine
  • milk

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