Towards Extending the Detection Window of Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid-An Untargeted Metabolomics Study in Serum and Urine Following Controlled Administration in Healthy Men

Metabolites. 2021 Mar 12;11(3):166. doi: 10.3390/metabo11030166.


In forensic toxicology, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) still represents one of the most challenging drugs of abuse in terms of analytical detection and interpretation. Given its rapid elimination, the detection window of GHB in common matrices is short (maximum 12 h in urine). Additionally, the differentiation from naturally occurring endogenous GHB, is challenging. Thus, novel biomarkers to extend the detection window of GHB are urgently needed. The present study aimed at searching new potential biomarkers of GHB use by means of mass spectrometry (MS) metabolomic profiling in serum (up to 16.5 h) and urine samples (up to 8 h after intake) collected during a placebo-controlled crossover study in healthy men. MS data acquired by different analytical methods (reversed phase and hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography; positive and negative electrospray ionization each) were filtered for significantly changed features applying univariate and mixed-effect model statistics. Complementary to a former study, conjugates of GHB with glycine, glutamate, taurine, carnitine and pentose (ribose) were identified in urine, with particularly GHB-pentose being promising for longer detection. None of the conjugates were detectable in serum. Therein, mainly energy metabolic substrates were identified, which may be useful for more detailed interpretation of underlying pathways but are too unspecific as biomarkers.

Keywords: GHB; placebo-controlled; serum; untargeted metabolomics profiling; urine.