Identification of anabolic steroids and derivatives using bioassay-guided fractionation,UHPLC/TOFMS analysis and accurate mass database searching

R.J.B. Peters, J.C.W. Rijk, T.F.H. Bovee, A.W.J.M. Nijrolder, A. Lommen, M.W.F. Nielen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Biological tests can be used to screen samples for large groups of compounds having a particular effect, but it is often difficult to identify a specific compound when a positive effect is observed. The identification of an unknown compound is a challenge for analytical chemistry in environmental analysis, food analysis, as well as in clinical and forensic toxicology. In this study bioassay-guided fractionation, ultra high performance liquid chromatography combined with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UHPLC/TOFMS) and accurate mass database searching was tested to detect and identify unknown androgens. Herbal mixtures and sport supplements were tested using an androgen bioassay and modifications in sample preparations were carried out in order to activate inactive pro-androgens, androgen esters and conjugated androgens to enable their detection in the bioassay. Two of the four herbal mixtures tested positive and bioassay-guided fractionation followed by UHPLC/TOFMS of positive fractions resulted in the identification of nortestosterone phenylpropionate, testosterone cyclohexanecarboxylate and methyltestosterone. Three of the four sport supplements reacted toxic in the bioassay or gave inconclusive results and were further investigated using UHPLC/TOFMS in combination with data processing software and an accurate mass database having approximately 40,000 entries. This accurate mass database was derived from the PubChem database on the internet and coupled to the TOFMS software. This resulted in the tentative identification of several androgens, including methylboldenone, testosterone and the androgen esters methyltestosterone propionate or testosterone isobutyrate, testosterone buciclate and methylenetestosterone acetate. The study showed that bioassay-guided fractionation in combination with UHPLC/TOFMS analysis is a useful procedure to detect, isolate and identify unknown androgens in suspected samples. As an alternative, the use of data processing software in combination with an accurate mass database and coupled on-line with the TOFMS instrument software enabled the identification of androgens and androgen esters in the chromatogram even without bioassay-guided fractionation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-88
JournalAnalytica Chimica Acta
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • liquid-chromatography
  • androgen bioassay
  • directed identification
  • veterinary drugs
  • screening method
  • human urine
  • hplc-uv
  • lc-ms
  • spectrometry
  • testosterone


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