The presence of microorganisms in urine samples, under favourable conditions of storage and transportation, may alter the concentration of steroid hormones, thus altering the correct evaluation of the urinary steroid profile in doping control analysis. According to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA technical document TD2004 EAAS), a testosterone deconjugation higher than 5% and the presence of 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione in the deconjugated fraction, are reliable indicators of urine degradation. The determination of these markers would require an additional quantitative analysis since the steroids screening analysis, in anti-doping laboratories, is performed in the total (free+conjugated) fraction. The aim of this work is therefore to establish reliable threshold values for some representative compounds (namely 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione) in the total fraction in order to predict directly at the screening stage the potential microbial degradation of the urine samples. Preliminary evidence on the most suitable degradation indexes has been obtained by measuring the urinary concentration of testosterone, epitestosterone, 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione by gas chromatography-mass spectrometric every day for 15 days in the deconjugated, glucuronide and total fraction of 10 pools of urines from 60 healthy subjects, stored under different pH and temperature conditions, and isolating the samples with one or more markers of degradation according to the WADA technical document TD2004EAAS. The threshold values for 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione were therefore obtained correlating the testosterone deconjugation rate with the urinary concentrations of 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione in the total fraction. The threshold values suggested as indexes of urine degradation in the total fraction were: 10 ng mL(-1) for 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 20 ng mL(-1) for 5β-androstane-3,17-dione. The validity of this approach was confirmed by the analysis of routine samples for more than five months (i.e. on a total of more than 4000 urine samples): samples with a concentration of total 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione higher than the threshold values showed a percentage of free testosterone higher than 5 of its total amount; whereas free testosterone in a percentage higher than 5 of its total amount was not detected in urines with a concentration of total 5α-androstane-3,17-dione and 5β-androstane-3,17-dione lower than the threshold values.
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