An improved method for rapidly quantifying fatty acid ethyl esters in meconium suitable for prenatal alcohol screening

Alcohol. 2011 Mar;45(2):193-9. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2010.07.005. Epub 2010 Aug 12.


Fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) are nonoxidative metabolites of ethanol, and elevated levels of FAEE in meconium are a useful biomarker for heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. FAEE in meconium has been recommended as useful and cost-effective for universal screening for prenatal alcohol exposure. To support an efficient universal screening program, an analytical method to detect and quantify FAEE in meconium needs to be accurate, inexpensive, and rapid. The purpose of this study was to develop an analytical method that would satisfy these criteria and to validate this method using established laboratory guidelines. A method was developed and validated to detect and quantify four FAEEs (ethyl palmitate, ethyl linoleate, ethyl oleate, and ethyl stearate) from 0.5 g of meconium using d(5)-ethyl esters as internal standards. The sample undergoes liquid-liquid extraction with heptane:acetone, the heptane layer is isolated and evaporated, and then, the resulting residue undergoes headspace solid-phase microextraction coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The detection limits of the four FAEEs ranged from 0.020 to 0.042 nmol/g and are 6- to 25-fold lower than the individual FAEE threshold concentrations (0.5 nmol/g). This method also has good precision with the coefficient of variation ranging from 2.6 to 19.4% for concentrations of individual FAEE between 0.5 and 2.62 nmol/g meconium (n=4). Calculated concentrations of FAEE that underwent extraction from meconium were 100-101% of the expected concentration, demonstrating the accuracy of the method. The peak shape and retention time of each FAEE were unaffected by the presence of the matrix, and there is no carryover at clinically relevant concentrations. This method was also able to produce clean chromatograms from meconium samples that could not be quantified using a previous method because of high chromatographic background. This method provides an optimal approach to detecting and quantifying FAEE in meconium that could be used in a universal screening program for prenatal alcohol exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Esters / analysis*
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Fatty Acids / analysis*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Meconium / chemistry*
  • Neonatal Screening / methods*
  • Solid Phase Microextraction / methods
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Biomarkers
  • Esters
  • Fatty Acids
  • Ethanol