Altered Erythroid-Related miRNA Levels as a Possible Novel Biomarker for Detection of Autologous Blood Transfusion Misuse in Sport

Transfusion. 2019 Aug;59(8):2709-2721. doi: 10.1111/trf.15383. Epub 2019 May 30.


Background: Autologous blood transfusion (ABT) is a performance-enhancing method prohibited in sport; its detection is a key issue in the field of anti-doping. Among novel markers enabling ABT detection, microRNAs (miRNAs) might be considered a promising analytical tool.

Study design and methods: We studied the changes of erythroid-related microRNAs following ABT, to identify novel biomarkers. Fifteen healthy trained males were studied from a population of 24 subjects, enrolled and randomized into a Transfusion (T) and a Control (C) group. Seriated blood samples were obtained in the T group before and after the two ABT procedures (withdrawal, with blood refrigerated or cryopreserved, and reinfusion), and in the C group at the same time points. Traditional hematological parameters were assessed. Samples were tested by microarray analysis of a pre-identified set of erythroid-related miRNAs.

Results: Hematological parameters showed moderate changes only in the T group, particularly following blood withdrawal. Among erythroid-related miRNAs tested, following ABT a pool of 7 miRNAs associated with fetal hemoglobin and regulating transcriptional repressors of gamma-globin gene was found stable in C and differently expressed in three out of six T subjects in the completed phase of ABT, independently from blood conservation. Particularly, two or more erythropoiesis-related miRNAs within the shortlist constituted of miR-126-3p, miR-144-3p, miR-191-3p, miR-197-3p, miR-486-3p, miR-486-5p, and miR-92a-3p were significantly upregulated in T subjects after reinfusion, with a person-to-person variability but with congruent changes.

Conclusions: This study describes a signature of potential interest for ABT detection in sports, based on the analysis of miRNAs associated with erythroid features.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Transfusion, Autologous*
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • Sports Medicine*


  • Biomarkers
  • MicroRNAs