Determination of Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters (FAEE) and Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) in Hair: A Promising Way for Retrospective Detection of Alcohol Abuse During Pregnancy?

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The retrospective detection of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is an important part of the diagnosis of the fetal alcohol syndrome. A promising way to solve this problem can be the determination of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) or/and ethyl glucuronide (EtG) in hair of the mothers. In this article, the present state in analytical determination and interpretation of FAEE and EtG concentrations in hair are reviewed. Both FAEE and EtG are minor metabolites of ethanol and as direct alcohol markers very specific for alcohol. They are durably deposited in hair, which enables taking advantage of the long diagnostic time window of this sample material. In the last years, specific and sensitive methods for determination of both alcohol markers in hair were developed. Headspace solid phase microextraction in combination with gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy after hair extraction with an n-heptane/dimethylsulfoxide mixture proved to be a favorable technique for determination of four characteristic FAEE (ethyl myristate, ethyl palmitate, ethyl oleate, and ethyl stearate). EtG is extracted from hair by water and analyzed either by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy with negative chemical ionization after cleanup with solid phase extraction and derivatization with pentafluoropropionic anhydride or by liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy-mass spectroscopy. The detection limits of the single FAEE as well as of EtG are in the range of 1 to 10 pg/mg. FAEE as well as EtG were determined in a larger number of hair samples of teetotalers, social drinkers, patients in alcohol withdrawal treatment, and death cases with previous known heavy drinking. From the results, the following criteria were derived: strict abstinence is excluded or improbable at CFAEE >0.2 ng/mg or CEtG >7 pg/mg. Moderate social drinkers should have CFAEE <0.5 ng/mg and CEtG <25 pg/mg; above these values, alcohol abuse is probable. Until now, there has been no evaluation in context of FAS diagnosis; however, a successful application for this purpose can be expected from the good experience in driving ability examination.

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