Zopiclone degradation in biological samples : Characteristics and consequences in forensic toxicology

Abstract: Bio-analytical results are influenced by in vivo factors such as genetics, pharmacological and physiological conditions and in vitro factors such as specimen composition, sample additives and storage conditions. Zopiclone (ZOP) is a short-acting hypnotic drug (Imovane®) used for treatment of insomnia. ZOP is metabolized by three major pathways; oxidation to the active zopiclone N-oxide (ZOPNO), demethylation to the inactive N-desmethylzopiclone (NDZOP) and oxidative decarboxylation to other inactive metabolites. ZOP is increasingly being encountered in forensic cases and is a common finding in samples from drug-impaired drivers, users of illicit recreational drugs, victims of drug facilitated sexual assaults and forensic autopsy cases. ZOP is a notoriously unstable analyte in biological matrices and analytical results depend on pre-analytical factors, such as storage time and temperature. The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate the stability of ZOP and the factors of importance for degradation during storage in biological samples and to identify consequences for interpretation of results in forensic toxicology.In paper I, different stability tests in spiked samples were performed including short-term, longterm, freeze-thaw and processed stability. Analyses of ZOP were performed by gas chromatography with nitrogen phosphorous detection and ZOP concentrations were measured at selected time intervals. The degradation product 2-amino-5-chloropyridine (ACP) was identified using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). The stability investigations showed a very poor short-term storage stability of ZOP.Therefore, in paper II, the influence of pre-analytical conditions was further investigated in dosed subjects. Whole blood from volunteers was obtained before and after oral administration of Imovane®. In this study, the influence from physiological factors such as drug interactions, matrix composition and plasma protein levels were minimized. The results showed that ZOP was stable in whole blood for only one day at room temperature, one week in a refrigerator and at least three months frozen in authentic as well as in spiked whole blood. The rapid degradation of ZOP at ambient temperature can cause an underestimation of the true concentration and consequently flaw the interpretation. However, by also analyzing the degradation product ACP the original concentration of ZOP may be estimated.In papers III and IV, two LC-MS-MS methods were validated for the quantitation of ACP, ZOP and NDZOP in blood and ACP, ZOP, NDZOP and ZOPNO in urine. These methods were used in a controlled pharmacokinetic study where whole blood and urine were obtained after oral administration of Imovane®. Samples of blood and urine were aliquoted, analyzed and stored under different conditions and the formation of ACP was monitored. Additionally, at each studied time point the pH of the blood and urine samples was measured using i-STAT® system. The results showed that ACP was formed in equimolar amounts to the degradation of ZOP and its metabolites.In urine samples, the formation of ACP occurred at elevated pH or temperature and mirrored the degradation of ZOP, NDZOP and ZOPNO. The high concentrations of metabolites, which also degraded to ACP, made it impossible to estimate the original ZOP concentration.The results from analysis of blood samples containing ACP were also used to develop mathematical models to estimate the original ZOP concentration. Both models showed strong correlation to the original ZOP concentration (r=0.960 and r=0.955) with p<0.01. This study showed that the equimolar degradation of ZOP and NDZOP to ACP could be used to estimate the original concentration of ZOP in blood samples.Absence of ACP in the blood or urine samples analysed strongly suggests that degradation has not occurred and that the measured concentration of ZOP is reliable. For proper interpretation in forensic cases, it is strongly recommended that ZOP and its metabolites as well as ACP are included in the analysis.