A rapid, simple and selective method involving direct separation by gas chromatography (GC) with electron ionization mass spectrometry (EI-MS) was employed to determine some N-acylhomoserine lactones (AHLs). Using GC/EI-MS, simultaneous separation and characterization of AHLs were possible without prior derivatization. Informative fragmentation patterns were obtained to identify the structures of N-acyl chains of AHLs. Electron ionization resulted in a common fragmentation pattern with the most abundant ion at m/z 143 and other minor peaks at m/z 71, 57, and 43. The presence of AHLs in extracts of Burkholderia cepacia strains was achieved in selected ion monitoring mode by using the prominent fragment at m/z 143. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.