We developed a novel immunoassay for herbal cannabis based on a new immunoassay principle that uses Ultra Quenchbody (“UQ-body”), a recombinant antibody Fab fragment fluorolabeled at the N-terminal regions. When the antigen binds to anti-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) UQ-body, the fluorescence intensity (FI) decreases. The analytical conditions of the immunoassay were optimized based on the FI reduction rate (FIRR). Following are the steps in the final analytical procedure: (1) 10mg of samples were extracted with 1ml of a 60:40 mixture of methanol and phosphate-buffered saline (PBS); (2) the extract was filtered through a centrifugal 0.2-μm polytetrafluoroethylene membrane filter; (3) the filtrate was diluted 100 times with extraction solvent; (4) 6-μl diluted solution was mixed with 19-μl PBS and 75-μl UQ-body solution; and (5) FIRR was measured under 275-mV excitation light. Herbal cannabis samples containing ≥4.0-mg/g THC gave FIRRs of ≥5.2%. FIRRs of negative samples (cigarette, tea, spice, and so-called “synthetic marijuana”) were ≤3.1%. When setting the FIRR threshold to 5.0%, cannabis samples containing ≥4.0-mg/g THC were correctly judged as positive without being affected by false positives caused by the negative samples. This detection limit was lower than total THC level (10-200mg/g) in most herbal cannabis samples seized in Japan. In seven of the 10 cannabis samples, the results of the UQ-body test were comparable with those of the Duquenois-Levine test. Thus, the UQ-body-based immunoassay is presumed to be an effective and objective drug screening method for herbal cannabis; however, to show the true usefulness, it is necessary to test a number of real case samples in the field situation.
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