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Br J Pharmacol. Jun 2008; 154(3): 623–631.
Published online Apr 21, 2008. doi:  10.1038/bjp.2008.144
PMCID: PMC2439520

Gene doping: the hype and the reality


Some spectacular results from genetic manipulation of laboratory rodents and increasing developments in human gene therapy raise the spectre of genetic modification or ‘gene doping' in sports. Candidate targets include the induction of muscle hypertrophy through overexpression of specific splice variants of insulin-like growth factor-1 or blockade of the action of myostatin, increasing oxygen delivery by raising the hematocrit through the use of erythropoietin, induction of angiogenesis with vascular endothelial growth factors or related molecules and changes in muscle phenotype through expression of peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor- delta and associated molecules. Some of these potential genetic enhancements, particularly where the genetic modification and its action are confined to the muscles, may be undetectable using current tests. This had lead to exaggerated predictions that gene doping in athletics will be common within the next few years. However, a review of the methods of gene transfer and the current ‘state of the art' in development of genetic treatments for human disease show that the prospects for gene doping remain essentially theoretical at present. Despite this conclusion, it will be important to continue to monitor improvements in the technology and to develop methods of detection, particularly those based on identifying patterns of changes in response to doping as opposed to the detection of specific agents.

Keywords: viral vectors, plasmid, Epo, IGF-1, myostatin, growth hormone, gene transfer, genetic manipulation, antisense

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