Monitoring salivary melatonin concentrations in children with sleep disorders using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry

Sohil A. Khan, Rani George, Bruce G. Charles*, Paul J. Taylor, Helen S. Heussler, David M. Cooper, Treasure M. McGuire, David Pache, Ross L.G. Norris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Melatonin is synthesized in the pineal gland and is an important circadian phase marker, especially in the determination of sleep patterns. Both temporary and permanent abnormal sleep patterns occur in children; therefore, it is desirable to have methods for monitoring melatonin in biological fluids in the diagnosis and treatment of such disorders. 

Objective: The objective of the study is to develop a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method for the determination of melatonin in saliva and to apply it to monitoring salivary concentrations in children with sleep disorders. 

Methods: A deuterated internal standard (d7-melatonin) was added to a diluted saliva sample (20 mL) in an autosampler vial insert, and 50 mL were injected. Plasticware was strictly avoided, and all glassware was scrupulously cleaned and then baked at 120°C for at least 48 hours to obtain satisfactory performance. Reverse-phase chromatography was performed on a C8 column using a linear gradient elution profile comprising mobile phases A (0.1% aqueous formic acid) and B (15% methanol in acetonitrile containing 0.1% formic acid), pumped at a total flow rate of 0.8 mL/min. The run time was 8 minutes. After atmospheric pressure chemical ionization, mass spectrometric detection was in positive ion mode. Mass detection was by selected reaction monitoring mode with the following mass transitions used for quantification: melatonin, m/z 233.0 / 173.8 and d7-melatonin, m/z 240.0 / 178.3. 

Results: Linearity (r< 0.999) was established from 3.9 to 1000 pg/mL. Imprecision (coefficient of variation percent) was less than 11%, and accuracy was 100-105% (7.0-900 pg/mL). The method was selective, and the mean (range) ratio of the slopes of calibrations in water to those in daytime saliva samples collected from 10 healthy adult subjects was 0.989 (0.982-0.997), indicating negligible matrix effects. The application of the assay was demonstrated in healthy adults and in children being clinically investigated for sleep disturbances. 

Conclusions: A validated liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method suitable for monitoring salivary melatonin in children with circadian rhythm sleep disorders is reported. The method also has potential application to pediatric population pharmacokinetic studies using sparse sampling of saliva as the biological sample matrix.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-395
Number of pages8
JournalTherapeutic Drug Monitoring
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Event12th International Congress of Therapeutic Drug Monitoring and Clinical Toxicology - Stuttgart, Germany
Duration: 2 Oct 20116 Oct 2011


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