On the trail of blood doping—microRNA fingerprints to monitor autologous blood transfusions in vivo

Veronika Mussack, Georg Wittmann, Michael W. Pfaffl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Autologous blood doping refers to the illegal re-transfusion of any quantities of blood or blood components with blood donor and recipient being the same person. The re-transfusion of stored erythrocyte concentrates is particularly attractive to high-performance athletes as this practice improves their oxygen capacity excessively. However, there is still no reliable detection method available. Analyzing circulating microRNA profiles of human subjects that underwent monitored autologous blood transfusions seems to be a highly promising approach to develop novel biomarkers for autologous blood doping. In this exploratory study, we randomly divided 30 healthy males into two different treatment groups and one control group and sampled whole blood at several time points at baseline, after whole blood donation and after transfusion of erythrocyte concentrates. Hematological variables were recorded and analyzed following the adaptive model of the Athlete Biological Passport. microRNA profiles were examined by small RNA sequencing and comprehensive multivariate data analyses, revealing microRNA fingerprints that reflect the sampling time point and transfusion volume. Neither individual microRNAs nor a signature of transfusion-dependent microRNAs reached superior sensitivity at 100% specificity compared to the Athlete Biological Passport (≤11% 6 h after transfusion versus ≤44% 2 days after transfusion). However, the window of autologous blood doping detection was different. Due to the heterogenous nature of doping, with athletes frequently combining multiple medications in order to both gain a competitive advantage and interfere with known testing methods, the true applicability of the molecular signature remains to be validated in real anti-doping testings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-353
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Hematology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021


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