PTCA (1H‐pyrrole‐2,3,5‐tricarboxylic acid) as a marker for oxidative hair treatment

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  • Published: Nov 17, 2017
  • Author: Silvana Petzel‐Witt, Sylvia I. Meier, Manfred Schubert‐Zsilavecz, Stefan W. Toennes
  • Journal: Drug Testing and Analysis


Hair analysis for the assessment of alcohol or drug abstinence has become a routine procedure in forensic toxicology. Hair coloration leading to loss of incorporated xenobiotics and to false negative results has turned out to be a major problem. Currently only colored extracts provide hints of manipulations but not bleaching. A liquid chromatographic–tandem mass spectrometric (LC–MS/MS) method was developed and validated to determine 1H‐pyrrole‐2,3,5‐tricarboxylic acid (PTCA), a major oxidation product of melanin. PTCA was determined in natural hair samples (n = 21) after treatment with 3% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for 30 or 40 minutes with concentrations up to 12% for 40 minutes. In another series, 12 natural hair samples were submitted to different coloration procedures (henna, tinting, semi‐permanent and permanent dyeing, bleaching) and the changes in PTCA content were determined. A significant increase in the PTCA content was found for both incubation times and increasing H2O2 concentrations. Coloration with henna or tinting had no influence on PTCA levels detected, but a significant increase was observed after semi‐permanent and permanent dyeing and bleaching. As PTCA concentrations in natural hair were found to be in a range of <2.1–16.4 ng/mg (8.4 ± 3.8 ng/mg, mean ± SD, n = 33), a cut‐off of 20 ng/mg is recommended for the distinction between natural vs. excessively oxidized hair. In case of naturally low melanin content (light‐blond or white hair), no marked increase in PTCA may occur. The present study demonstrated that PTCA is formed during oxidative treatment of melanin in hair, which can be used to detect previous hair coloration including oxidation.

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