Standardization of reticulocyte counts in the athlete biological passport

Int J Lab Hematol. 2019 Jun;41(3):387-391. doi: 10.1111/ijlh.12988. Epub 2019 Feb 19.


Introduction: The percentage of circulating reticulocytes (RET%) is a useful marker of blood doping in the context of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). The viability of the ABP depends on the comparability of sample data obtained across multiple laboratories for a given athlete. With the recent introduction of a different technology for the measurement of reticulocytes, the goal of this study was to compare currently employed Sysmex XT/XE analyzers to the recently introduced Sysmex XN analyzer.

Methods: RET% differences were searched in two independent data sets, the first consisting of 95 369 RET% values coming from 29 laboratories located in five continents as part of routine testing for the ABP, the second from a targeted study involving 510 samples analyzed on both a Sysmex XT and XN analyzers by two different laboratories.

Results: A relatively small but significant bias of 0.27 ([0.22-0.35] 95% CI) for the first data set and 0.19% ([0.16-0.22] 95% CI) for the second data set was observed with Sysmex XN analyzers returning higher values than Sysmex XT/XE analyzers. This bias appears constant over most of the range of RET% measured in elite athletes.

Conclusion: When RET% values are obtained for the same athlete with different technologies (XT/XE vs XN), an adjustment of RET% emanating from the XT/XE instruments through a decrease of 0.22% within the ABP calculated ranges appears to be sufficient to integrate the results from the two technologies.

Keywords: Reticulocytes; athlete biological passport; blood doping; laboratory hematology; standardization.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Humans
  • Reticulocyte Count* / methods
  • Reticulocyte Count* / standards
  • Reticulocytes*