Thyroid hormones are critical regulators of normal development and physiological functioning in all vertebrates. Radioimmunoassay (RIA) approaches have been the method of choice for measuring circulating levels of thyroid hormones in vertebrates. While sensitive, RIA-based approaches only allow for a single analyte measurement per assay, can lack concordance across platforms and laboratories, and can be prone to analytical interferences especially when used with fish plasma. Ongoing advances in liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) have led to substantial decreases in detection limits for thyroid hormones and other biomolecules in complex matrices, including human plasma. Despite these advances, current analytical approaches do not allow for the measurement of native thyroid hormone in teleost fish plasma by mass spectrometry and continue to rely on immunoassay. In this study, we developed a new method that allows for the rapid extraction and simultaneous measurement of total T4 (TT4) and total T3 (TT3) in low volumes (50 μL) of fish plasma by LC/MS/MS. Methods were optimized initially in plasma from rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and applied to plasma from other teleost fishes, including fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus), sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), and coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Validation of method performance with T4- and T3-spiked rainbow trout plasma at 2 and 4 ng/mL produced mean recoveries ranging from 82 to 95 % and 97 to 105 %, respectively. Recovery of 13C12-T4 internal standard in plasma extractions was: 99 ± 1.8 % in rainbow trout, 85 ± 11 % in fathead minnow, 73 ± 5.0 % in mummichog, 73 ± 1.7 % in sockeye salmon, and 80 ± 8.4 % in coho salmon. While absolute levels of thyroid hormones measured in identical plasma samples by LC/MS/MS and RIA varied depending on the assay used, T4/T3 ratios were generally consistent across both techniques. Less variability was measured among samples subjected to LC/MS/MS suggesting a more precise estimate of thyroid hormone homeostasis in the species targeted. Overall, a sensitive and reproducible method was established that takes advantage of LC/MS/MS techniques to rapidly measure TT4 and TT3 with negligible interferences in low volumes of plasma across a variety of teleost fishes.
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