The Aconitum species (Ranunculaceae) are widely distributed in northern Asia and North America. Their roots are popularly used in herbal medicines in China and Japan. Many cases of accidental, suicidal and homicidal intoxication with this plant have been reported; some of these were fatal because the toxicity of Aconitum is very high. It is thus important to detect and quantify Aconitum alkaloids in body fluids, with high sensitivity. We have developed a simple and sensitive method for measuring four kinds of Aconitum alkaloids (aconitine, hypaconitine, jesaconitine and mesaconitine) by LC/electrospray (ESI)-time-of-flight (TOF)-MS. For all of them, only molecular ions were observed at an orifice voltage of 75 V; at 135 V, base peaks corresponding to [M - 60 + H]+ ions were observed. These four compounds and methyllycaconitine (internal standard) in human plasma samples were purified by solid-phase extraction. The four extracted compounds were completely separated in mass chromatograms; the calibration curves showed good linearity in the range 10-300 ng/ml, and the detection limits were estimated to be 0.2-0.5 ng/ml. Using our method, we also determined the amounts of these compounds in tuber samples. The present method is applicable in clinical and forensic toxicology.
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