Tacrolimus is the cornerstone of immunosuppressive therapy in solid organ transplantation and its blood concentrations are routinely monitored. Tacrolimus is extensively metabolized into metabolites that are supposed to be nephrotoxic. Yet, few analytical methods have been described to simultaneously quantify tacrolimus and its main metabolites. We developed and validated a simple liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method for the quantification of tacrolimus and its three desmethylated metabolites, 13-O, 15-O, and 31-O-desmethylated tacrolimus (M-I, M-III, and M-II respectively) in human whole blood. Protein precipitation of 50 µL of whole blood with 100 µL methanol and zinc sulfate was used as a single-extraction procedure. Tacrolimus and its metabolites were quantified using electrospray ionization-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry in combination with selected reaction monitoring detection in the positive ionization mode. The method was validated following FDA recommendations. This method was precise (intra- and inter-assay coefficients of variation: 2.88-7.81% and 3.96-12.10% for low and high levels of internal quality controls, respectively) and accurate (intra- and inter-assay biases: -1.67-10.30%, and -0.77–9.36%, respectively). In adult kidney transplant patients who were treated with tacrolimus prolonged release formulation, the median (10-90 percentiles) trough concentrations (n = 16) of tacrolimus, M-I, and M-III were 5.85 (3.37-7.09), 0.100 (0.037-0.168), 0.051 (0.03-0.104), respectively. M-II was measured in only 2 trough samples. The metabolic ratios M-I/tacrolimus and M-III/tacrolimus were 0.017 (0.009-0.027) and 0.009 (0.006-0.015) when measured on trough concentration and 0.022 (0.011-0.037) and 0.008 (0.006-0.015) when measured on area under the curves 0-24 h. This method is a suitable and easy-to-perform tool for future pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamics studies investigating the importance of tacrolimus and its metabolites blood exposure for solid organ graft survival.
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