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16, 304-310 (1971)
for Serum Copper
Department of Pathology, Wayne State University, School of Medicine
and Detroit General Hospital, Detroit, Michigan 48207.
25, 1971
Several compounds have proven useful as reagents for the determination of copper contained in biological sources. Commonly suggested
ligands are neocuproine (10)) bathocuproine and its sulfonate (7, 11),
diethyldithiocarbamate (8, 15)) dibenzyldithiocarbamate (3)) biscyclohexanoneoxalyldihydrazone (,6), oxalyldihydrazide plus acetaldehyde
(I, 9, 12, 14), dithizone (2), and 1,5-diphenylcarbohydrazide (5).
The molar absorptivities reported for their complexes of copper ranged
from 7950 for neocuproine to 58,500 for 1,5-diphenylcarbohydrazide.
Recently a reagent of excellent sensitivity was proposed for the determination of copper in tissues and body fluids (4). The use of the
compound, N,N,N1,N1-tetraethylthiuram disulfide, also called disulfiram
and Antabuse, was described for a procedure in which total destruction
by wet ashing with perchloric acid (PCA) was employed. A PCA
filtrate technique was also suggested for serum copper but procedural
details were limited, making it difficult to follow the authors’ exact intent. In that study (4), it was pointed out that the use of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and HCl to prepare a filtrate proved unsatisfactory
and troublesome but just why this should be so was not considered or
discussed. When an attempt was made to use TCA filtrates of serums
and the suggested solution of the color reagent, turbidities developed
which were indeed troublesome. A subsequent follow-up study of the
turbidity showed it to be due to precipitation of the disulmam reagent.
The addition of a solubilizing solvent such as ethanol cleared the solution but the dilution required created a new problem, i.e., loss of sensitivity. Finally, after testing several substitute solvents, glacial acetic acid
was chosen as the reagent medium for this system. By this simple expedient of changing the solvent, characteristics of the color reagent
turbid solutions were not encountered and the new reagent could be
1 Supported in part by grant-in-aid
from Detroit
General Hospital
used to obtain relatively high absorbance values with concentrated TCA
filtrates prepared from 1: 1 ratios of serum to precipitating agent. The
present report describes a simplified procedure for serum involving only
two chemical steps, one of which is the conventional preparation of a
TCA filtrate and includes a spectrophotometric study of the characteristics of the sensitive reaction.
Stock trichloroacetic acid solution, 100 g/dl.
Stock copper standard solution, 50 &ml.
Working copper standard solutions. Pipet 0.0, 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 ml
of the stock copper standard into volumetric flasks. To each add 10 ml
of the stock TCA solution, and dilute them to the mark of the flask
with metal-free H,O and mix them well.
d&u&de. Dissolve 40 mg of the compound to 1 dl with glacial acetic acid.
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)-precipitating
agent. Dilute 20 ml of the
stock TCA solution to 1 dl with metal-free distilled H?O.
Pipet 2.0 ml of the TCA precipitating agent into 2 ml of sample,
and mix thoroughly. Centrifuge out the precipitate and remove a 2-ml
aliquot into a l-cm cuvette. Add 0.5 ml of color reagent, mix the solution well, and wait 5 minutes. Measure the absorbance against a reagent blank at 425 nm.
Treat 2-ml aliquots of each working copper standard with 0.5 ml of
color reagent, wait 5 minutes, and measure the absorbance of the
standards against the blank at 425 nm. These 1: 1 filtratelike solutions
of standards contain 0, 50, 100, and 150 pg/dl but correspond to serum
values which would be prepared from an original 0, 100, 200, and
300 pg/dl.
The molar absorptivity for copper in the reaction with N,N,Nl,Nltetraethylthiuram disulfide (disulfiram) is stated to be 37,000 when the
reaction medium was a strong perchloric acid solution in which the
color reagent added was dissolved in acetone and water (4). When the
reagent dissolved in glacial acetic acid was added to a trichloroacetic
acid filtrate as described under Procedure, the molar absorptivity was
33,300, 11% less than reported for the stronger acid medium. However, the small loss in molar absorptivity still results in an extremely
sensitive copper reaction. In addition, it enables one to use a buffered
portion or portions of the same filtrate for the determination of iron
or zinc if either or both were desired ( 13). If the stronger acid filtrate
were used, buffering would involve greater dilution and lower absorbance values.
There is a structural resemblance between N,N,NI,N’-tetraethylthiuram disulfide, disulfide I, and diethyldithiocarbamate II. The spectrum of the copper complex of II is shifted hypsochromically from 440
to 425 nm for II.
W, \
In view of the structural similarities, one might expect some similarities
in chemical reactivity. It has been proven that II is not interfered with
by any of the ions normally present in serum even when their concentrations were far in excessof normal limits (4). But when diethyldithiocarbamate is used as a copper reagent it requires a masking reagent for
iron or else the results for copper will be spurious. Therefore, the
effect of iron on the suggested reaction was studied in the following
manner. A copper solution was treated as described under Procedure,
a spectrum was drawn between the wavelengths of 550 and 350 nm
and it is shown as curve 1 in Fig. 1. When this same amount of copper
was mixed with 1 mg of iron, the reaction carried out and the spectrum
drawn as before, an apparently undistorted curve for copper was obtained (Curve 2, Fig. 1) but the peak intensity was increased by about
13%. A third solution containing only 1 mg of iron but no copper was
scanned in order to establish or rule out copper contamination of the
iron added and the results of this reaction are also graphed (Curve 4)
in Fig. 1. On observing these spectra the inference can be drawn that
the reaction sensitivity for copper appears to be enhanced by the presence of iron even though iron itself does not react with the ligand. Zinc
is another trace metal of serum whose concentration is normally similar
to those of copper and iron. Therefore, its effect on the copper reaction
was tested as with iron and the graphic result is shown as Curve 3 in
FIG. 1. Shows the augmenting effect of iron and zinc on the reaction of copper
with the color reagent: (1) the spectrum for copper alone; (2) the spectrum
when the copper is contaminated with 1 mg of iron/dl; (3) the spectrum for
iron alone; (4) the spectrum when the copper is contaminated with 1 mg/dl of
zinc; and (5) the spectrum for zinc alone. All spectra shown were displaced 50
nm so that they can be seen more easily.
Fig. 1. The augmenting effect of 1 mg of zinc on 300 pg of copper is
much less, only about 3%. Zinc, like iron does not undergo reaction
with the reagent at all as shown in Curve 5, and this seems to rule out
copper contamination as the reason for color augmentation. Since the
error for this large concentration of zinc is small, it would seem safe to
ignore zinc as a contaminant of any importance in the reaction and it
was studied no further.
However, in serum, the iron concentrations encountered are usually
lower than the copper concentrations. To study the reaction, a series
of copper standards were reacted with the reagent in the absence and
presence of several concentrations of iron and the spectra of the resulting colored solutions are shown in Fig. 2. At these ranges of concentrations for the two metals, there does not appear to be a significant
error from the iron present, and for all practical purposes it seems
feasible to ignore iron as a contaminant of any real importance. The
FIG. 2. Shows the spectra of 100, 200, and 300 pg/dl of copper alone, and
then when each is contaminated with 50, 100, 150, and 200 ,ug/dl of iron. Each
spectral group was displaced 50 nm so that they can be seen more easily.
study described in Fig. 2 can also be used to indicate the precision one
could expect to encounter for the color reaction itself. The results indicated in addition to subsequent recoveries made at other times show a
calculated standard deviation of AZ 4.56 throughout the range tested.
Table 1 shows the means, ranges, and standard deviations obtained
for three different concentrations of copper using the described procedure.
The amount of ligand required in the reaction along with the time
Present a
a Copper cone (Mg/dl).
zt-1 SD
Range found
FIG. 3. Shows time and reagent concentration graphs when solutions containing
4, 8, 12, 20, and 40 mg of disulfiram/dl of glacial acetic acid are reacted with a
fixed quantity of copper and the developing absorbances followed with time. The
base lines were shifted slightly in absorbance so that plateaus can be seen more
easily and the times were shifted by 5 minutes for the same reason.
required to achieve full color formation for that amount is graphically
described in Fig. 3. Different amounts of N,N,W,W-tetraethylthiuram
disulfide, 4, 8, 12, 20, and 40 mg/dl, were added to a 300 pg/dl solution of copper and the absorbances continually graphed for 30-minute
periods at 425 nm. The curves of Fig. 3 show that peak absorbance is
reached quicker as the concentration of ligand is increased with the
plateau for the time factor ranging between 20 and 40 mg/dl. Obviously, the amount described for use under Reagents is optimal for the
reaction. As shown, the color formed is quite stable for the 30-minute
period in which the continuous drawings were made and in fact is stable
for several times longer than that time period.
A rapid and simple filtrate procedure for the determination of serum copper
is described. It involves only 2 chemical steps and is quite sensitive with a molar
absorptivity of 33,300. The color formed is stable for more than 30 minutes and
the results indicate that the reaction is quite applicable to the determination of
copper found in serum.
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