From 2014 onwards, illicit fentanyl and analogues have caused numerous intoxications and fatalities worldwide, impacting the demographics of opioid-related overdoses. The identification of cases involving fentanyl analogues is crucial in clinical and forensic settings to treat patients, elucidate intoxications, address drug use disorders and tackle drug trends. However, in analytical toxicology, the concentration of fentanyl analogues in biological matrices is low, making their detection challenging. Therefore, the identification of specific metabolite biomarkers is often required to document consumption. beta '-Phenylfentanyl (N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl]-benzenepropanamide) is a fentanyl analogue that was first detected in Sweden in 2017 and has recently reemerged onto the American illicit drug market. There is little data available on beta '-phenylfentanyl effects and toxicokinetics and its metabolism is yet to be studied. We aimed to investigate beta '-phenylfentanyl human metabolism to identify potential biomarkers of use. To assist in beta '-phenylfentanyl metabolite identification, a list of putative reactions was generated using in silico predictions with GLORYx freeware. beta '-phenylfentanyl was incubated with cryopreserved 10-donor-pooled human hepatocytes, analyses were performed by liquid chromatography-high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS-MS) and data were processed using a partially automated targeted/untargeted approach with Compound Discoverer. We identified 26 metabolites produced by N-dealkylation, oxidation, hydroxylation, O-glucuronidation, O-methylation and combinations thereof. We suggest beta '-phenylnorfentanyl (N-phenyl-N-4-piperidinyl-benzenepropanamide) and further metabolites 1-oxo-N-phenyl-N-4-piperidinyl-benzenepropanamide and 1-hydroxy-N-phenyl-N-4-piperidinyl-benzenepropanamide as major biomarkers of beta '-phenylfentanyl use. In silico predictions were mostly wrong, and beta '-phenylfentanyl metabolic fate substantially differed from that of a closely related analogue incubated in the same conditions, highlighting the value of the experimental assessment of new psychoactive substance human metabolism. In vivo data are necessary to confirm the present results. However, the present results may be necessary to help analytical toxicologists identify beta '-phenylfentanyl-positive cases to provide authentic samples.
β'-Phenylfentanyl Metabolism in Primary Human Hepatocyte Incubations: Identification of Potential Biomarkers of Exposure in Clinical and Forensic Toxicology / Brunetti, Pietro; Lo Faro, Alfredo F; Di Trana, Annagiulia; Montana, Angelo; Basile, Giuseppe; Carlier, Jeremy; Busardò, Francesco P. - In: JOURNAL OF ANALYTICAL TOXICOLOGY. - ISSN 0146-4760. - 46:9(2023), pp. e207-e217. [10.1093/jat/bkac065]