Development of a Method to Quantitate Nematode Pheromone for Study of Small-Molecule Metabolism in <i>Caenorhabditis elegans</i>

Pheromones produced by <i>Caenorhabditis elegans</i> are considered key regulators of development, mating, and social behaviors in this organism. Here, we present a rapid mass spectrometry-based method (PheroQu) for absolute <i>qu</i>antitation of nematode <i>phero</i>mones (e.g., daumone 1, 2, and 3) both in <i>C. elegans</i> worm bodies (as few as 20 worms) and in liquid culture medium. Pheromones were separated by ultra performance liquid chromatography and monitored by a positive electrospray ionization detector in the multiple-reaction monitoring mode. The <i>daf-22</i> mutant worms were used as surrogate matrix for calibration, and stable deuterated isotope-containing pheromone was used as internal standard for measuring changes in pheromones in N2 wild-type and other strains under different growth conditions. The worm-body pheromones were extracted by acidified acetonitrile solvent, and the secreted pheromones were extracted from culture medium with solid-phase extraction cartridges. The run time was achieved in less than 2 min. The method was validated for specificity, linearity, accuracy, precision, recovery, and stability. The assay was linear over an amount range of 2–250 fmol, and the limit of quantitation was 2 fmol amounts for daumone 1, 2, and 3 in both worm bodies and culture medium. With the PheroQu method, we were able to identify the location of pheromone biosynthesis and determine the changes in different pheromone types synthesized, according to developmental stages and aging process. This method, which is simple, rapid, sensitive, and specific, will be useful for the study of small-molecule metabolism during developmental stages of <i>C. elegans</i>.