Indirect biomarkers of blood doping: A systematic review

Drug Test Anal. 2024 Jan;16(1):49-64. doi: 10.1002/dta.3514. Epub 2023 May 22.


The detection of blood doping represents a current major issue in sports and an ongoing challenge for antidoping research. Initially focusing on direct detection methods to identify a banned substance or its metabolites, the antidoping effort has been progressively complemented by indirect approaches. The longitudinal and individual monitoring of specific biomarkers aims to identify nonphysiological variations that may be related to doping practices. From this perspective, the identification of markers sensitive to erythropoiesis alteration is key in the screening of blood doping. The current Athlete Biological Passport implemented since 2009 is composed of 14 variables (including two primary markers, i.e., hemoglobin concentration and OFF score) for the hematological module to be used for indirect detection of blood doping. Nevertheless, research has continually proposed and investigated new markers sensitive to an alteration of the erythropoietic cascade and specific to blood doping. If multiple early markers have been identified (at the transcriptomic level) or developed directly in a diagnostics' kit (at a proteomic level), other target variables at the end of the erythropoietic process (linked with the red blood cell functions) may strengthen the hematological module in the future. Therefore, this review aims to provide a global systematic overview of the biomarkers considered to date in the indirect investigation of blood doping.

Keywords: EPO; antidoping; biomarkers; blood doping; blood transfusion.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Doping in Sports* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Proteomics
  • Sports*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods


  • Biomarkers