Transcriptomic markers of recombinant human erythropoietin micro-dosing in thoroughbred horses

Anna R. Dahlgren, Heather K. Knych, Rick Arthur, Blythe P. Durbin-Johnson, Carrie J. Finno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) is a well-known performance enhancing drug in human athletes, and there is anecdotal evidence of it being used in horse racing for the same purpose. rHuEPO, like endogenous EPO, increases arterial oxygen content and thus aerobic power. Micro-doping, or injecting smaller doses over a longer period of time, has become an important concern in both human and equine athletics since it is more difficult to detect. Horses offer an additional challenge of a contractile spleen, thus large changes in the red blood cell mass occur naturally. To address the challenge of detecting rHuEPO doping in horse racing, we determined the transcriptomic effects of rHuEPO micro-dosing over seven weeks in exercised Thoroughbreds. RNA-sequencing of peripheral blood mononuclear cells isolated at several time points throughout the study identified three transcripts (C13H16orf54, PUM2 and CHTOP) that were significantly (PFDR < 0.05) different between the treatment groups across two or three time point comparisons. PUM2 and CHTOP play a role in erythropoiesis while not much is known about C13H16orf54, but it is primarily expressed in whole blood. However, gene expression differences were not large enough to detect via RT-qPCR, thereby precluding their utility as biomarkers of micro-doping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1874
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Biomarkers
  • Doping
  • RHuEPO
  • RNA sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Transcriptomic markers of recombinant human erythropoietin micro-dosing in thoroughbred horses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this