Nicotine is classified as a stimulant, and its use is banned in horse racing and equestrian sports by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the Fédération Équestre Internationale, respectively. Because nicotine is a major alkaloid of tobacco leaves, there is a potential risk that doping control samples may be contaminated by tobacco cigarettes or smoke during sample collection. In order to differentiate the genuine doping and sample contamination with tobacco leaves, it is necessary to monitor unique metabolites as biomarkers for nicotine administration and intake. However, little is known about the metabolic fate of nicotine in horses. This is the first report of comprehensive metabolism study of nicotine in horses. Using liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization high-resolution mass spectrometry, we identified a total of 17 metabolites, including one novel horse-specific metabolite (i.e., 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl)-N-methylbutanamide), in post-administration urine samples after nasoesophageal administration of nicotine to three thoroughbred mares; eight of these compounds were confirmed based on reference standards. Among these metabolites, N-hydroxymethylnorcotinine was the major urinary metabolite in equine, but it could only be tentatively identified by mass spectral interpretation due to the lack of reference material. In addition, we developed simultaneous quantification methods for the eight target analytes in plasma and urine, and applied them to post-administration samples to establish elimination profiles of nicotine and its metabolites. The quantification results revealed that trans-3′-hydroxycotinine could be quantified for the longest period in both plasma (72 h post-administration) and urine (96 h post-administration). Therefore, this metabolite is the most appropriate monitoring target for nicotine exposure for the purpose of doping control due to its long detection times and the availability of its reference material. Further, we identified trans-3′-hydroxycotinine as a unique biomarker allowing differentiation between nicotine administration and sample contamination with tobacco leaves.
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