Sports drug testing using complementary matrices: Advantages and limitations

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2016 Oct 25;130:220-230. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2016.03.055. Epub 2016 Mar 28.


Today, routine doping controls largely rely on testing whole blood, serum, and urine samples. These matrices allow comprehensively covering inorganic as well as low and high molecular mass organic analytes relevant to doping controls and are collecting and transferring from sampling sites to accredited anti-doping laboratories under standardized conditions. Various aspects including time and cost-effectiveness as well as intrusiveness and invasiveness of the sampling procedure but also analyte stability and breadth of the contained information have been motivation to consider and assess values potentially provided and added to modern sports drug testing programs by alternative matrices. Such alternatives could be dried blood spots (DBS), dried plasma spots (DPS), oral fluid (OF), exhaled breath (EB), and hair. In this review, recent developments and test methods concerning these alternative matrices and expected or proven contributions as well as limitations of these specimens in the context of the international anti-doping fight are presented and discussed, guided by current regulations for prohibited substances and methods of doping as established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Focusing on literature published between 2011 and 2015, examples for doping control analytical assays concerning non-approved substances, anabolic agents, peptide hormones/growth factors/related substances and mimetics, β2-agonists, hormone and metabolic modulators, diuretics and masking agents, stimulants, narcotics, cannabinoids, glucocorticoids, and beta-blockers were selected to outline the advantages and limitations of the aforementioned alternative matrices as compared to conventional doping control samples (i.e. urine and blood/serum).

Keywords: Doping; Immunoassay; Mass spectrometry; Sport.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / analysis
  • Anabolic Agents / metabolism
  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Doping in Sports / methods
  • Doping in Sports / prevention & control*
  • Dried Blood Spot Testing / methods
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / analysis*
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / metabolism*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sports / standards
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances