Urinary cyanoethyl mercapturic acid, a biomarker of the smoke toxicant acrylonitrile, clearly distinguishes smokers from nonsmokers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: Cyanoethyl mercapturic acid (CEMA) is a urinary metabolite of acrylonitrile, a toxicant found in substantial quantities in cigarette smoke, but not in non-combusted products such as e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco and rarely in the diet or in the general human environment. Thus, we hypothesized that CEMA is an excellent biomarker of combusted tobacco product use.

AIMS AND METHODS: We tested this hypothesis by analyzing CEMA in the urine of 1259 cigarette smokers (urinary cotinine ≥25 ng/mL) and 1191 nonsmokers. The analyses of CEMA and cotinine were performed by validated liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry methods. Logistic regression was fit for log-transformed CEMA to construct the receiver operating characteristic curve.

RESULTS: We found that a CEMA cutpoint of 27 pmol/mL urine differentiated cigarette smokers from nonsmokers with sensitivity and specificity greater than 99%. The use of different cotinine cutpoints to define smokers (10-30 ng/mL) had little effect on the results.

CONCLUSIONS: CEMA is a highly reliable urinary biomarker to identify users of combusted tobacco products such as cigarettes as opposed to users of non-combusted products, medicinal nicotine, or nonusers of tobacco products.

IMPLICATIONS: CEMA can be used to distinguish users of combusted tobacco products from non-combusted products such as e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and medicinal nicotine. Levels of CEMA in the urine of people who use these non-combusted products are extremely low, in contrast to cotinine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1744-1747
Number of pages4
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Acetylcysteine/chemistry
  • Acrylonitrile/metabolism
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers/urine
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-Smokers/statistics & numerical data
  • Smokers/statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking/epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder/diagnosis
  • United States/epidemiology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


Dive into the research topics of 'Urinary cyanoethyl mercapturic acid, a biomarker of the smoke toxicant acrylonitrile, clearly distinguishes smokers from nonsmokers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this