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Understanding Chromatography Peaks: A Closer Look at Trailing, Symmetry, and Asymmetry Factors

Understanding Chromatography Peaks

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Understanding Trailing Factor, Symmetry Factor, and Asymmetry Factor in Chromatography

In chromatography experiments, three terms that are often encountered but not always well understood are trailing factor, symmetry factor, and asymmetry factor. This article aims to clarify the relationship and differences between these three parameters in chromatography, in hopes of assisting chromatographers in their work.

Gaussian Curve and Theoretical Tower Number

A Gaussian curve is a standard curve used to represent normal distribution. In an ideal chromatography experiment, peaks should conform to this distribution. The theoretical tower number is an important characteristic of a chromatographic system’s suitability. However, in practice, peaks often deviate from the Gaussian distribution due to factors such as dead volume in the instrument and the adsorption effect of the instrument’s components and stationary solution on the sample. This deviation results in peak asymmetry, which can manifest as forward extension, symmetry, or trailing.

Peak States in Chromatography Experiments

National pharmacopeias typically measure peak states in chromatography experiments using asymmetry, tailing, and symmetry factors. In drug analysis chromatography experiments, excluding factors such as solvent and substance adsorption or bonding phase tailing effects, the column filling effect plays a role in peak shape. If the front of the column is tightly filled while the back is loosely filled, the peak will trail at the back. Conversely, if the front of the hplc column is loosely filled and the back is tight, the peak will trail at the front. There are usually specific regulations regarding the acceptable range for the trailing factor.

Trailing Factor

The trailing factor is a parameter used to evaluate the symmetry of a peak’s shape. Both the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the Chinese Pharmacopeia have specific provisions for the trailing factor. In the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the trailing factor is determined by drawing a curve perpendicular to the baseline from the peak’s apex, and a line parallel to the baseline at 5% of the peak height. The intersections of these lines with the peak’s sides are then used to calculate the trailing factor, with T = 1 indicating a symmetrical peak, T < 1 indicating a peak that tends to front extension, and T > 1 indicating a peak that tends to trail.

Asymmetry Factor

The asymmetry factor is used to evaluate the asymmetry of a peak’s shape, and is similar to the trailing factor. In the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the asymmetry factor is calculated using a curve drawn from the peak’s apex perpendicular to the baseline, and a line drawn parallel to the baseline at 10% of the peak height. The intersections of these lines with the peak’s sides are used to calculate the asymmetry factor, with As = 1 indicating a symmetrical peak, As < 1 indicating a peak that tends to front extension, and As > 1 indicating a peak that tends to trail. The Chinese Pharmacopoeia does not mention the asymmetry factor.

Symmetry Factor and Its Inconsistencies

The symmetry factor is a special parameter, with inconsistencies between different chromatographic instruments and national pharmacopeias. Some versions of the U.S. Pharmacopeia state that the symmetry factor is the reciprocal of the asymmetry factor, while the Japanese Pharmacopoeia and the European Pharmacopoeia define the symmetry factor in a manner consistent with the U.S. Pharmacopoeia’s definition of the trailing factor.


In conclusion, regardless of whether we are considering the trailing, symmetry, or asymmetry factor, the goal is to use these parameters to judge the symmetry or asymmetry of chromatographic peaks. These parameters should be used consistently to compare peak shapes within an experiment, with the trailing factor generally being used in drug analysis chromatography experiments to determine peak shape. Each chromatographic workstation will automatically calculate the trailing factor, asymmetry factor, and symmetry factor, making it important for chromatographers to be familiar with their workstation’s criteria for determining peak shape in order to accurately distinguish between these parameters.

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UHPLCs is a leading manufacturer of HPLC columns and consumables for liquid chromatography. The company offers a wide range of products, including empty HPLC columns, solvent filters, guard columns, inline HPLC columns, and PEEK consumables. uHPLCs’ products are used in a variety of applications, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, environmental, and food safety analysis.

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