Fatty acid ethyl esters: a novel biologic marker for heavy in utero ethanol exposure: a case report

Ther Drug Monit. 1999 Dec;21(6):644-6. doi: 10.1097/00007691-199912000-00011.


The authors report testing the meconium of a newborn for the presence of FAEE. Meconium from a newborn of a woman who acknowledged drinking beer throughout pregnancy was tested. The authors also tested the meconiums of 3 newborns whose mothers did not drink at all while pregnant. The FAEE were extracted from the meconium samples using solid phase extraction (SPE), and were identified and quantitated by gas chromatography with flame ionization detection (FID). For assignment of retention times and determination of individual concentrations, authentic mixtures of FAEE were injected. The total FAEE concentration in the meconium of the alcohol-exposed infant was 13126 ng/g compared to a mean of 410 ng/g in the control meconiums. Also, in this case, palmitic, linoleic, and stearic ethyl esters were found in the alcohol-exposed infant's meconium while they were not found in the unexposed infant's meconium. In a parallel experiment, the authors spiked increasing amounts of ethyl alcohol (0-40mM) into the meconium from a newborn that was not exposed to ethanol in utero. The spiked samples were incubated for 4 hours at 37 degrees C and subsequently assayed for the presence of ethyl linoleate. In these experiments, they document for the first time that FAEE is produced in meconium. If confirmed by large studies, FAEE may become the first neonatal biologic marker for babies at risk for alcohol-related birth defects.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Linoleic Acid / analysis
  • Linoleic Acids / analysis
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Meconium / chemistry*
  • Palmitic Acid / analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Stearic Acids / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acids
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Stearic Acids
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Ethanol
  • stearic acid
  • Linoleic Acid
  • ethyl linoleate