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Ther Drug Monit. 2004 Oct;26(5):474-81.

Fetal exposure to alcohol as evidenced by fatty acid ethyl esters in meconium in the absence of maternal drinking history in pregnancy.

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  • 1The Motherisk Program, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The detection of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) in neonatal meconium has been proposed as a novel screening method for intrauterine exposure to alcohol. We investigated the potential use of meconium FAEE screening in a high-risk neonatal population in the absence of maternal drinking history. One hundred forty-two meconium samples of neonates suspected of intrauterine illicit substance exposure and referred to the Motherisk Laboratory were analyzed for the existence of drugs by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and FAEE by gas chromatography-flame ionization detection (GC-FID). A positive FAEE test was previously defined as a cumulative measurement of 7 individual FAEE > or = 2 nmol/g. Seventy-one percent of the samples tested positive for at least 1 illicit drug, with cannabis being the most prevalent (52.3%). Fourteen percent of all samples tested positive for prenatal alcohol exposure, as evidenced by cumulative meconium FAEE > or = 2 nmol/g. Ethyl oleate, linoleate, palmitate, and arachidonate were detected most often and at the highest levels. At least 3 individual FAEE were detected in 95% of all positive samples, and none could be identified by the use of 1 selected FAEE. Significantly elevated levels of FAEE above the baseline and the presence of multiple FAEE species in meconium are exclusive to neonates who have likely been exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol in utero. Babies born to mothers who are suspected to use illicit drugs in pregnancy are at elevated risk for exposure also to alcohol in utero. Meconium FAEE are emerging biologic markers that can potentially facilitate earlier diagnosis and intervention for less apparent forms of alcohol-related disabilities that cannot be confirmed in the absence of maternal drinking history.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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