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Keywords:

  • clenbuterol;
  • food contamination;
  • sports drug testing;
  • inadvertent doping;
  • LC-MS/MS

The misuse of the sympathomimetic and anabolic agent clenbuterol has been frequently reported in professional sport and in the livestock industry. In 2010, a team of athletes returned from competition in China and regular doping control samples were taken within the next two days. All urine samples contained low amounts (pg/ml) of clenbuterol, drawing the attention to a well-known problem: the possibility of an unintended clenbuterol intake with food. A warning that Chinese meat is possibly contaminated with prohibited substances according to international anti-doping regulations was also given by Chinese officials just before the Bejing Olympic Games in 2008.

To investigate if clenbuterol can be found in human urine, a study was initiated comprising 28 volunteers collecting urine samples after their return from China. For the quantification of clenbuterol at a low pg/ml level, a very sensitive and specific isotope dilution liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) assay was developed using liquid/liquid re-extraction for clean-up with a limit of detection and quantification of 1 and 3 pg/ml, respectively. The method was validated demonstrating good precision (intra-day: 2.9–5.5 %; inter-day: 5.1–8.8%), accuracy (89.5–102.5%) and mean recovery (81.4%). Clenbuterol was detectable in 22 (79%) of the analyzed samples, indicating a general food contamination problem despite an official clenbuterol prohibition in China for livestock. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.