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J Pediatr. 2003 Oct;143(4):463-9.

Validation of a new biomarker of fetal exposure to alcohol.

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Department of Pediatrics and Neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Suite 3100, Cleveland, OH 44106-6010, USA.



To test the sensitivity and specificity of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) extracted from meconium to identify alcohol-using pregnant women with a sensitive and specific methodology, gas chromatography-tandem mass spectroscopy (GC/MS/MS). Study design Twenty-seven samples of meconium were obtained from infants from the mixed race community in Cape Town, South Africa, who were enrolled in a longitudinal neurobehavioral study. Maternal alcohol use was reported prospectively during pregnancy. FAEEs were isolated from meconium and quantitated by GC/MS/MS.


Ethyl oleate was the FAEE that correlated most strongly with maternal self-reported drinking, especially with the average ounces of absolute alcohol ingested per drinking day. Ethyl oleate was most strongly related to drinking in the second and third trimesters (Pearson r=.55 and.40, respectively). At a threshold of 1.5 average ounces of absolute alcohol ingested per drinking day, the area under the receiving operator characteristic curve was.92 (95% confidence interval, 0.74-0.97). Using a cut-off value of 32 ng/g, sensitivity was 84.2% and specificity was 83.3%.


Ethyl oleate concentration in meconium assayed by GC/MS/MS provides a highly sensitive and specific indicator of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy.

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