Receptor-based high-throughput screening and identification of estrogens in dietary supplements using bioaffinity liquid-chromatography ion mobility mass spectrometry

Aqai, P.; Gómez Blesa, N.; Major, H.; Pedotti, P.; Varani, L.; Ferrero, V.E.V.; Haasnoot, W.; Nielen, M.W.F.


A high-throughput bioaffinity liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (BioMS) approach was developed and applied for the screening and identification of recombinant human estrogen receptor a (ERa) ligands in dietary supplements. For screening, a semi-automated mass spectrometric ligand binding assay was developed applying 13C2,15¿N-tamoxifen as non-radioactive label and fast ultra-high-performance–liquid chromatography–electrospray ionisation–triple-quadrupole-MS (UPLC-QqQ-MS), operated in the single reaction monitoring mode, as a readout system. Binding of the label to ERa-coated paramagnetic microbeads was inhibited by competing estrogens in the sample extract yielding decreased levels of the label in UPLC-QqQ-MS. The label showed high ionisation efficiency in positive electrospray ionisation (ESI) mode, so the developed BioMS approach is able to screen for estrogens in dietary supplements despite their poor ionisation efficiency in both positive and negative ESI modes. The assay was performed in a 96-well plate, and all these wells could be measured within 3 h. Estrogens in suspect extracts were identified by full-scan accurate mass and collision-cross section (CCS) values from a UPLC-ion mobility-Q-time-of-flight-MS (UPLC-IM-Q-ToF-MS) equipped with a novel atmospheric pressure ionisation source. Thanks to the novel ion source, this instrument provided picogram sensitivity for estrogens in the negative ion mode and an additional identification point (experimental CCS values) next to retention time, accurate mass and tandem mass spectrometry data. The developed combination of bioaffinity screening with UPLC-QqQ-MS and identification with UPLC-IM-Q-ToF-MS provides an extremely powerful analytical tool for early warning of ERa bioactive compounds in dietary supplements as demonstrated by analysis of selected dietary supplements in which different estrogens were identified.