A novel, rapid and sensitive liquid chromatography/quadrupole linear ion trap mass spectrometry [LC-ESI-(QqLIT)MS/MS] method was developed and validated for the quantification of protopanaxadiol (PPD) in rat plasma. Oleanolic acid (OA) was used as internal standard (IS). A simple protein precipitation based on acetonitrile (ACN) was employed. Chromatographic separation was performed on a Sepax GP-C18 column (50 × 2.1 mm, 5 μM) with a mobile phase consisting of ACN–water and 1.5 μM formic acid and 25 mM lithium acetate (90 : 10, v/v) at a flow rate of 0.4 ml/min for 3.0 min. Multiple-reaction-monitoring mode was performed using lithium adduct ion as precursor ion of m/z 467.5/449.4 and 455.6/407.4 for the drug and IS, respectively. Calibration curve was recovered over a concentration range of 0.5–100 ng/ml with a correlation coefficient >0.99. The limit of detection was 0.2 ng/ml in rat plasma for PPD. The results of the intraday and interday precision and accuracy studies were well within the acceptable limits. The validated method was successfully applied to investigate the pharmacokinetic study of PPD after intravenous and gavage administration to rat. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.