The quantitative and confirmative performance of two different mass spectrometry (MS) techniques (high-resolution MS and tandem MS) was critically compared. Evaluated was a new extraction and clean-up protocol which was developed to cover more than 100 different veterinary drugs at trace levels in a number of animal tissues and honey matrices. Both detection techniques, high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) (single-stage Orbitrap instrument operated at 50 000 full width at half maximum) and tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) (quadrupole technology) were used to validate the method according to the EU Commission Decision 2002/657/EEC. Equal or even a slightly better quantitative performance was observed for the HRMS-based approach. Sensitivity is higher for unit mass resolution MS/MS if only a subset of the 100 compounds has to be monitored.
Confirmation of suspected positive findings can be done by evaluating the intensity ratio between different MS/MS transitions, or by accurate mass based product ion traces (no precursor selection applied). MS/MS relies on compound-specific optimized transitions; hence the second, confirmatory transition generally shows relatively high ion abundance (fragmentation efficacy). This is often not the case in single-stage HRMS, since a generic (not compound-optimized) collision energy is applied. Hence, confirmation of analytes present at low levels is superior when performed by MS/MS. Slightly better precision, but poorer accuracy (fortified matrix extracts versus pure standard solution) of ion ratios were observed when comparing data obtained by HRMS versus MS/MS. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.