Determination and Chemical Profiling of Toxic Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids in Botanical Samples with UPLC–Q-TOFMS

  • Won Tae Jeong
  • Heung Bin LimEmail author


Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) and their N-oxides (PANOs) can cause liver toxicity and genotoxicity in humans and animals, necessitating the development of screening tools for these alkaloids. Ultra-performance liquid chromatography–electrospray ionization-quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UPLC–ESI–Q-TOFMS) can provide accurate precursor and fragment ion mass information (MSE mode) as well as simultaneous quantification. A method for rapidly and accurately determining nine PAs with UPLC–ESI–Q-TOF MS was developed and validated herein. Analytes were separated using a C18 column with water containing 0.1% formic acid and acetonitrile, showing high-resolution peaks within 11 min. The validation results showed excellent linearity (R2 > 0.9951), limits of detection (0.4–2.0 ng mL−1), and limits of quantification (0.6–6.0 ng mL−1). Moreover, 70 PAs, their N-oxides precursors, and characteristic fragment ions that were generated according to their chemical structure were characterized. A method for the chemical profiling of alkaloids was also proposed using the mass information obtained from the chromatograms of the tested sample. Lycopsamine, senecionine, senkirkine, and echimidine were identified in four potentially PA-containing plants and quantified by matching with authentic standards. Eight PAs and PANOs were also tentatively identified using the mass data from the previously listed alkaloids. This approach will provide a database that can be used to instantly identify alkaloids in botanical samples.


Pyrrolizidine alkloids UPLC–Q-TOF/MS Chemical profiling Structural identification 



No funding was provided for this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare there are no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by authors. The authors confirm compliance with ethical standards.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 102 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Industrial Plant Science and TechnologyChungbuk National UniversityCheongjuRepublic of Korea

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