Diastereomeric Drug Glucuronides: Enzymatic Glucuronidation and Analysis by Capillary Electrophoresis and Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry

Päivi Lehtonen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Foreign compounds, such as drugs are metabolised in the body in numerous reactions. Metabolic reactions are divided into phase I (functionalisation) and phase II (conjugation) reactions. Uridine diphosphoglucuronosyltransferase enzymes (UGTs) are important catalysts of phase II metabolic system. They catalyse the transfer of glucuronic acid to small lipophilic molecules and convert them to hydrophilic and polar glucuronides that are readily excreted from the body. Liver is the main site of drug metabolism.

Many drugs are racemic mixtures of two enantiomers. Glucuronidation of a racemic compound yields a pair of diastereomeric glucuronides. Stereoisomers are interesting substrates in glucuronidation studies since some UGTs display stereoselectivity. Diastereomeric glucuronides of O-desmethyltramadol (M1) and entacapone were selected as model compounds in this work.

The investigations of the thesis deal with enzymatic glucuronidation and the development of analytical methods for drug metabolites, particularly diastereomeric glucuronides. The glucuronides were analysed from complex biological matrices, such as urine or from in vitro incubation matrices. Various pretreatment techniques were needed to purify, concentrate and isolate the analytes of interest. Analyses were carried out by liquid chromatography (LC) with ultraviolet (UV) or mass spectrometric (MS) detection or with capillary electromigration techniques.

Commercial glucuronide standards were not available for the studies. Enzyme-assisted synthesis with rat liver microsomes was therefore used to produce M1 glucuronides as reference compounds. The glucuronides were isolated by LC/UV and ultra performance liquid chromatography (UPLC)/MS, while tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy were employed in structural characterisation. The glucuronides were identified as phenolic O-glucuronides of M1.

To identify the active UGT enzymes in (±)-M1 glucuronidation recombinant human UGTs and human tissue microsomes were incubated with (±)-M1. The study revealed that several UGTs can catalyse (±)-M1 glucuronidation. Glucuronidation in human liver microsomes like in rat liver microsomes is stereoselective. The results of the studies showed that UGT2B7, most probably, is the main UGT responsible for (±)-M1 glucuronidation in human liver. Large variation in stereoselectivity of UGTs toward (±)-M1 enantiomers was observed. Formation of M1 glucuronides was monitored with a fast and selective UPLC/MS method.

Capillary electromigration techniques are known for their high resolution power. A method that relied on capillary electrophoresis (CE) with UV detection was developed for the separation of tramadol and its free and glucuronidated metabolites. The suitability of the method to identify tramadol metabolites in an authentic urine samples was tested. Unaltered tramadol and four of its main metabolites were detected in the electropherogram.

A micellar electrokinetic chromatography (MEKC) /UV method was developed for the separation of the glucuronides of entacapone in human urine. The validated method was tested in the analysis of urine samples of patients. The glucuronides of entacapone could be quantified after oral entacapone dosing.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-952-10-7201-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-10-7202-4
Publication statusPublished - 2011
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 317 Pharmacy

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