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Forensic Sci Int. 2008 Mar 21;176(1):76-81. Epub 2007 Nov 19.

Comparison of ethyl glucuronide in hair with phosphatidylethanol in whole blood as post-mortem markers of alcohol abuse.

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  • 1Department of Forensic Medicine, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) is a direct metabolite of ethanol and has been used as a marker of alcohol abuse in both urine and hair. This study investigated the value of EtG testing in post-mortem hair for diagnostic improvement of alcohol abuse in forensic medicine. Material from 70 consecutive medico-legal autopsies was collected in accordance with the recommendations on ethics by the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine. A method for determination of EtG in hair samples was developed using ultra performance liquid chromatography/electrospray tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC/ESI-MS/MS; LOQ, 2.5 pg/mg). The result of the EtG analysis was compared with the findings of phosphatidylethanol (PEth) in femoral whole blood, as measured by high performance liquid chromatography with an evaporative light-scattering detector (HPLC-ELSD; LOQ, 0.22 micromol/l). Evaluation of liver histology and anamnestic evidence of alcohol abuse of the deceased were taken in consideration for the interpretation. Measurable levels of EtG were present in 49 of the 70 autopsy cases whereas PEth was present in 36. Thirty-nine cases had EtG levels above the cutoff limit (> or = 30 pg/mg) compared with 29 for PEth (> or = 0.7 micromol/l). Fifteen cases had EtG as exclusive indicator for alcohol abuse compared with four cases for PEth. These findings suggest that measurements of EtG in hair may provide improved diagnostic information on alcohol abuse, due to a long retrospective time-window for detection and stability of EtG in hair in the decaying cadaver. However, an EtG level below the cutoff does not completely exclude previous alcohol abuse.

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