The levels of urinary catecholamine metabolites, such as homovanillic acid (HVA) and vanillylmandelic acid, are routinely used as a clinical tool in the diagnosis and follow-up of neuroblastoma (NB) patients. Recently, in the Clinical Pathology Laboratory Unit of G. Gaslini Children Hospital, a commercial method that employs liquid chromatography coupled to electrochemical detection (LC-EC) has been introduced for the measurement of these metabolites in the routine laboratory practice. Using this LC-EC method, an unknown peak could be observed only in samples derived from NB patients. To investigate the nature of this peak, we used a combination of liquid chromatography-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-TOF-MS) and liquid chromatography-ion trap tandem mass spectrometry (LC-IT-MS). The first approach was used to obtain the elemental composition of the ions present in this new signal. To get additional structural information useful for the elucidation of unknown compounds, the ion trap analyzer was exploited. We were able to identify not just one, but three unknown signals in urine samples from NB patients which corresponded to three conjugated products of HVA: HVA sulfate and two glucuronoconjugate isomers. The enzymatic hydrolysis with β-glucuronidase confirmed the proposed structures, while the selective alkaline hydrolysis allowed us to distinguish the difference between phenol- and acyl-glucuronide of HVA. The latter was the unknown peak observed in LC-EC separations of urine samples from NB patients.
- homovanillic acid
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