N‐Acetylcysteine as a chemical scavenger for sulfur mustard: New insights by mass spectrometry

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EarlyView Article

  • Published: Nov 23, 2017
  • Author: Markus Siegert, Andreas Kranawetvogl, Horst Thiermann, Harald John
  • Journal: Drug Testing and Analysis


The vesicant sulfur mustard (SM) is a banned chemical warfare agent. Although, SM has been used in combat since WWI, there is no causal therapy currently available. Accordingly, development and investigation of antidotes and scavengers targeting SM are of high clinical relevance. N‐acetylcysteine (NAC) was shown to mitigate symptoms of SM intoxications in vitro and in vivo. However, it is still unclear whether the beneficial effects of NAC are only due to physiological processes or also due to chemical scavenging of SM. Therefore, in this study, we examined the scavenging potential of NAC toward SM. Co‐incubations of SM and different NAC concentrations in human serum were performed to monitor diverse adducts (covalent reaction products) of human serum albumin (HSA), NAC, and SM. After proteolytic cleavage of HSA with proteinase K the alkylated tripeptide hydroxyethylthioethyl‐CysProPhe (HETE‐CPF) and the disulfide bridged tripeptide NAC‐CPF were detected. Samples were analyzed by microbore liquid chromatography–electrospray ionization–high‐resolution tandem‐mass spectrometry (μLC‐ESI MS/HR MS). Furthermore, degradation kinetics of SM in phosphate buffered saline were measured in the presence and absence of NAC. Although NAC‐CPF was identified and characterized for the first time by mass spectrometry and reaction products of NAC and SM were detected and identified by MS/HR MS, analyses clearly documented minor reactivity not significantly contributing to reduction of SM concentrations. Therefore, we conclude that chemical scavenging of SM by NAC does not play the key role in NAC therapy of SM poisoning.

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