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22.05.2017 | Original Article | Ausgabe 5/2017

International Journal of Legal Medicine 5/2017

Alterations in gene expression after gamma-hydroxybutyric acid intake—A pilot study

International Journal of Legal Medicine > Ausgabe 5/2017
Lena-Maria Mehling, Annika Spottke, Anna Heidbreder, Peter Young, Burkhard Madea, Cornelius Hess, Cornelius Courts
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00414-017-1609-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) acts as an agonist of the GABAB receptor, where GHB induces a depressant effect in the central nervous system. Besides its therapeutic application, GHB is also used as a date rape drug. However, the detection of GHB ingestion proves to be difficult due to its narrow detection window. The aim of this pilot study was to assess differential gene expressions after GHB intake to identify potential biomarkers for the detection of GHB intake. To this aim, alteration in gene expression of ALDH5A1, AKR7A2, EREG, and PEA15 was investigated via quantitative PCR (qPCR). Data normalization was based on a previously established and empirically derived normalization strategy. Blood samples of patients (n = 3) therapeutically taking sodium oxybate solution (GHB) and of donors without GHB intake (n = 49) were analyzed and compared. All qPCR procedures and results are reported according to the MIQE guidelines. Investigation of suitable reference genes using established algorithms suggested PPIB and FPGS as best-suited normalizers. Alterations in gene expression relating to GHB intake could not be confirmed to a forensically sufficient degree. However, significant differences in expression of EREG in the control group were observed, when time-point of sample collection was considered, indicating circadian rhythm. The study’s main limitation is the small number of study subjects. Herein, we are first to present an empirically derived strategy for a robust normalization of qPCR data from the analysis of GHB-induced gene expression in human blood. We present results of the analysis of differential expression of ALDH5A1, AKR7A2, EREG, and PEA15 in the GHB-negative population. Finally, we report our findings on the effect of GHB intake on the expression of these genes and their presumable potential as GHB biomarkers.

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