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Analysis of degradation products of nerve agents in biological fluids by ion chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry



The detection of hydrolysis products of nerve agents (alkyl methylphosphonic acids; RMPAs) in biological samples from victims is important to confirm exposure to nerve agents. However, analysis of RMPAs is difficult due to their high hydrophilicity. The aim of this study was to develop ion chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (IC–MS/MS) methods using commercially available equipment and columns to analyze RMPAs in human urine and serum with high sensitivity and without using complicate techniques.


A Dionex IonPac AS11-HC anion-exchange column was used to analyze six RMPAs (MPA, EMPA, IMPA, iBuMPA, CHMPA, and PMPA). For pretreatments of biological fluids, we developed two pretreatment methods (Method 1: dilution and ultrafiltration; Method 2: removal of chloride ions with Ag cartridges).


Six RMPAs including highly hydrophilic methylphosphonic acid and ethyl methylphosphonic acid could be analyzed with sufficient retention times and peak shape. The detection limits of RMPAs were improved using Dionex OnGuard II Ba/Ag/H cartridges and MetaSEP IC–Ag cartridges (urine: 0.5–5 ng/mL; serum: 1–5 ng/mL). These methods were also applied to the test samples for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Biomedical Proficiency Tests.


RMPAs could be sufficiently analyzed by IC–MS/MS. In addition, the limits of detection were superior to those obtained in our previous study involving LC–MS/MS or derivatization–LC–MS/MS method. For analysis of biological samples, an appropriate pretreatment method can be chosen according to the amount of sample available for analysis and expected RMPA concentrations.

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This work was supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grant-in-Aid for Early Career Scientists [grant number 20K18990 to M.O.]. We thank ThinkSCIENCE Inc. ( for editing a draft of this manuscript.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by M.O. All authors read and approved to the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mai Otsuka.

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The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

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Collection of the urine samples was performed in line with the principles of the Declarations of Helsinki and approved by the ethics committee of the National Research Institute of Police Science.

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Otsuka, M., Miyaguchi, H. Analysis of degradation products of nerve agents in biological fluids by ion chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. Forensic Toxicol (2022).

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  • Warfare agents
  • IC–MS/MS
  • Nerve agents
  • Biological fluids