Cortisol (CRT), the main glucocorticoid in humans, plays a crucial role in many physiological processes, therefore, the measurement of its serum level is of great clinical significance. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-tandem mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS/MS) might be an effective approach for the quantification of CRT in serum due to its attractive properties, i.e., high specificity, ease of use, ruggedness and rapid analysis. In this study, we developed a method to quantify the serum CRT by MALDI-MS/MS. This method employed the derivatization using a Girard-type reagent, 1-(hydrazinocarbonylmethyl)isoquinolinium chloride, which compensated for the lack of sensitivity. This method enabled the reproducible quantification of the serum CRT using a 20-μL sample (intra- and inter-assay relative standard deviations, 7.4% or lower), and the measurable range was 25–500 ng/mL. The serum CRT concentrations determined by the newly-developed MALDI-MS/MS method agreed well with those by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization-MS/MS or electrochemiluminescence immunoassay. The MALDI-MS/MS method was used for the analysis of peripheral venous serum samples of healthy subjects and adrenal venous serum samples of patients with primary aldosteronism, and satisfactory results were obtained.
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