Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 405, Issue 4, pp 1283–1292 | Cite as

Strategy for quantifying trace levels of BMAA in cyanobacteria by LC/MS/MS

  • Liying Jiang
  • Eric Johnston
  • K. Magnus Åberg
  • Ulrika Nilsson
  • Leopold L. Ilag
Original Paper


The cyanobacterial neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) is an amino acid that is putatively associated with the pathology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Parkinsonism–dementia complex (ALS-PDC) disease. It raises serious health risk concerns since cyanobacteria are ubiquitous thus making human exposure almost inevitable. The identification and quantification of BMAA in cyanobacteria is challenging because it is present only in trace amounts and occurs alongside structurally similar compounds such as BMAA isomers. This work describes an enhanced liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry platform that can distinguish BMAA from its isomers β-amino-N-methyl-alanine, N-(2-aminoethyl) glycine (AEG), and 2,4-diaminobutyric acid, thus ensuring confident identification of BMAA. The method's sensitivity was improved fourfold by a post-column addition of acetonitrile. The instrument and method limits of detection were shown to be 4.2 fmol/injection (or 0.5 pg/one column) and 0.1 μg/g dry weight of cyanobacteria, respectively. The quantification method uses synthesized deuterated BMAA as an internal standard and exhibits good linearity, accuracy, and precision. Matrix effects were also investigated, revealing an ion enhancement of around 18 %. A lab-cultured cyanobacterial sample (Leptolyngbya PCC73110) was analyzed and shown to contain about 0.73 μg/g dry weight BMAA. The isomer AEG, whose chromatographic properties closely resemble those of BMAA, was also detected. These results highlight the importance of distinguishing BMAA from its isomers for reliable identification as well as providing a sensitive and accurate quantification method for measuring trace levels of BMAA in cyanobacterial samples.


ALS-PDC Isomers AEG BMAA Post-column addition Matrix effect 



We thank Prof. Birgitta Bergman and Dr. Johan Eriksson (Department of Botany, Stockholm University) for providing the samples used in this study.

Supplementary material

216_2012_6550_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (77 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 77 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Analytical ChemistryStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of Organic ChemistryStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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