Blood cells RNA biomarkers as a first long-term detection strategy for EPO abuse in horseracing

Drug Test Anal. 2010 Jul;2(7):339-45. doi: 10.1002/dta.146.


Recombinant human erythropoietins (rHuEPOs) are glycoproteins drugs, produced by the pharmaceutical industry to restore production of red blood cells by stimulating human bone marrow for which this pathology has been diagnosed. It is suspected that these molecules are diverted as doping agents in horseracing to enhance oxygen transport and aerobic power in racehorses. Although indirect double-blotting or direct liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) methods have been developed to confirm the presence of rHuEPO in a sample, the short detection time (48 h) is still a problem for doping control. In this context, gene profiling investigation through Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE) has been conducted on seven thoroughbreds treated with Eprex. This functional genomic method has been performed from total blood cells collected from each animal to assess the mRNA expression consecutive to rHuEPO injections. Sample pooling was chosen as a powerful, cost-effective, and rapid means of identifying the most common and specific changes in terms of gene expression profile and to eliminate individual variation. Consequently, three SAGE libraries were constructed, before, during, and after Eprex treatment. More than 71 440 mRNA signatures were observed and subjected to statistical analysis; 49 differentially expressed genes were identified and analyzed by qPCR. From the selected gene list, were defined as potential biomarkers in terms of their low inter-individual variation and capacity as strong markers of rHuEPO administration up to 60 days after the beginning of the doping period. In this paper, a new strategy is proposed to the horseracing industry to prevent rHuEPO abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Epoetin Alfa
  • Erythropoietin / administration & dosage
  • Erythropoietin / analysis*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Messenger / blood*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Biomarkers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Epoetin Alfa