Last Month's Most Accessed Feature: Date rape drug metabolite: NMR reveals evidence next day

Skip to Navigation

Monthly Highlight

  • Published: Oct 3, 2017
  • Categories: NMR Knowledge Base
thumbnail image: Last Month's Most Accessed Feature: Date rape drug metabolite: NMR reveals evidence next day

Victim of crime

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy can be used to quickly identify a biomarker for the presence of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB, the so-called

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy can be used to quickly identify a biomarker for the presence of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB, the so-called "date rape" drug) in a biological sample from a putative victim of crime. Details are reported in the American Chemical Society's journal Analytical Chemistry.

GHB is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain and well known as a psychoactive drug being the precursor to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system. It is also the precursor to glutamate and glycine in certain regions of the brain and itself acts on the GHB receptor. Although its precise role as a neurotransmitter is not known its interaction with the GHB receptor is associated with excitation rather than sedation, although its action may be involved in the control of sleep, mood, and anxiety.

Groggy amnesia

GHB acts pharmacologically as an anaesthetic and has been used in this context to treat cataplexy, narcolepsy, and alcoholism. It has also been used illicitly as a recreational drug for its intoxicant effects, in the world of sport as an enhancer of athletic performance, and perhaps most infamously as a date rape drug. It is thus important to have simple analytical tools to measure its presence in samples from patients, those involved in illegal activities, and victims of various crimes.

GHB is quickly absorbed by the body through ingestion of the soluble and commonly used sodium and potassium salts. GHB can make a person sleepy and can induce amnesia and as such has become the drug of abuse in many crimes, in particular sex crimes. It is metabolized rapidly and so is difficult for law enforcement to determine whether or not a person has taken or been given the drug. Indeed, a sample must be tested within hours of a reported crime. Moreover, the test requires a lot of sample pre-treatment, which can skew the results or even destroy the evidence.

Now, researchers from the Centro de Investigacion Principe Felipe of Valencia (Martina Palomino-Schätzlein), and Universitat Autonoma of Barcelona (Teodor Parella and Míriam Pérez-Trujillo), both in Spain, and King's College London, UK (Yaoyao Wang, Alan Brailsford, David Cowan, and Cristina Legido-Quigley), have now identified a metabolic trace, a biomarker, which can be identified using NMR spectroscopy some time later. The approach not only allows urine samples to be tested much later than is plausible with current tests but also precludes the need for extensive sample manipulation before testing.

Late evidence

The researchers have examined samples from a clinical trial in which volunteers received a small dose of GHB. They took blood and urine samples from the trial participants at regular intervals over a 30 hour period following administering the drug orally. The NMR spectra showed GHB present in the samples for up to about two hours afterwards and could also discern other similar drugs. Critically, however, the team also showed that glycolate, a metabolite of GHB, is present in the person's body for up to up to 20 hours after the GHB is given. This, the team suggests, could be used as the basis of a test for GHB use or abuse much later, a point that is especially important given that many crimes may be committed several hours before a victim recognizes the signs that they have been violated in some way especially if they are suffering amnesia. The test on glycolate does not damage nor destroy the sample and so subsequent analyses would also be possible.

Related Links

Anal Chem 2017, online: "Direct Monitoring of Exogenous gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid in Body Fluids by NMR Spectroscopy"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Follow us on Twitter!

Social Links

Share This Links

Bookmark and Share

Microsites

Suppliers Selection
Societies Selection

Banner Ad

Click here to see
all job opportunities

Most Viewed

Copyright Information

Interested in separation science? Visit our sister site separationsNOW.com

Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved