The berries of Vaccinium macrocarpon, cranberry, are widely used for the prevention of urinary tract infections. This species contains A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), which intervene in the initial phase of the development of urinary tract infections by preventing the adherence of Escherichia coli by their P-type fimbriae to uroepithelial cells. Unfortunately, the existing clinical studies used different cranberry preparations, which were poorly standardized. Because of this, the results were hard to compare, which led sometimes to conflicting results. Currently, PACs are quantified using the rather non-specific spectrophotometric 4-dimethylaminocinnamaldehyde (DMAC) method. In addition, a normal phase HPTLC-densitometric method, a HPLC-UV method and three LC–MS/MS methods for quantification of procyanidin A2 were recently published. All these methods contain some shortcomings and errors. Hence, the development and validation of a fast and sensitive standard addition LC–MS/MS method for the simultaneous quantification of A-type dimers and trimers in a cranberry dry extract was carried out. A linear calibration model could be adopted for dimers and, after logaritmic transformation, for trimers. The maximal interday and interconcentration precision was found to be 4.86% and 4.28% for procyanidin A2, and 5.61% and 7.65% for trimeric PACs, which are all acceptable values for an analytical method using LC–MS/MS. In addition, twelve different cranberry extracts were analyzed by means of the newly validated method and other widely used methods. There appeared to be an enormous variation in dimeric and trimeric PAC content. Comparison of these results with LC–MS/MS analysis without standard addition showed the presence of matrix effects for some of the extracts and proved the necessity of standard addition.
A comparison of the well-known and widely used DMAC method, the butanol-HCl assay and this newly developed LC–MS/MS method clearly indicated the need for a reliable method able to quantify A-type PACs, which are considered to be the pharmacologically active constituents of cranberry, since neither the DMAC or butanol-HCl assays are capable of distinguishing between A and B-type PACs and therefore cannot detect adulterations with, for example, extracts with a high B-type PAC content. Hence, the combination of the DMAC method or butanol-HCl assay with this more specific LC–MS/MS assay could overcome these shortcomings.