A specific and highly sensitive liquid chromatography-electrospray mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS) method for the direct determination of bupropion (BUP) and its main metabolite hydroxybupropion (HBUP) in rat plasma and brain microdialysate has been developed and validated. The analysis was performed on a Bonus RP 08 (100 mm x 2.1 mm id., 3.5 mu m particles) column using gradient elution with the mobile phase consisting of acetonitrile and ammonium formate buffer (10 mM, pH 4). Plasma samples were analyzed after a simple, one-step protein precipitation clean-up with trichloroacetic acid (TCA), however clean-up for microdialysis samples was not necessary, enabling direct injection of the samples into the LC-ESI-MS system. Signals of the compounds were monitored under the multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mode of the LC-ESI-MS (ion trap) for quantification. The precursor to product ion transitions of m/z 240-184 and m/z 256-238 were used to measure BUP and HBUP, respectively. The method was validated in both plasma and microdialysate samples, and the obtained lower limit of quantification (LLOQ) was 1.5 ng mL(-1) for BUP and HBUP in both matrices. The intra- and inter-day assay variability was less than 15% for both analytes. This LC-ESI-MS method provided simple sampling, rapid clean-up and short analysis time (<9 min), applicable to the routine therapeutic monitoring and pharmacokinetic studies of BUP and HBUP. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.