Background and objectives: Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) has been on the list of forbidden substances since availability of its recombinant form improved in the early 1990s. Although its effectiveness in enhancing physical performance is still unproved, the compound is likely used for its potential anabolic effect on the muscle growth, and also in combination with other products (androgens, erythropoietin, etc.). The degree of similarity between the endogenous and the recombinant forms, the pulsatile secretion and marked interindividual variability makes detection of doping difficult. Two approaches proposed to overcome this problem are: the indirect method, which measures a combination of several factors in the biological cascade affected by administration of GH; and the direct method, which measures the difference between the circulating and the recombinant (represented by the unique 22 kD molecule) forms of GH. This article gives an overview of what is presently known about hGH in relation to sport. The available methods of detection are also evaluated.
Methods: Review of the literature on GH in relation to exercise, and its adverse effects and methods of detection when used for doping.
Results and conclusion: The main effects of exercise on hGH production and the use and effects of rhGH in athletes are discussed. Difficulties encountered by laboratories to prove misuse of this substance by both indirect and direct analyses are emphasised. The direct method currently seems to have the best reliability, even though the time window of detection is too short. hGH doping is a major challenge in the fight against doping. The effect of exercise on hGH and its short half-life are still presenting difficulties during doping analysis. To date the most promising method appears to be the direct approach utilising immunoassays.