Surveillance of illegal use of growth promoters such as β-agonists in food producing animals rely on the detection of drug residues by LC-MS/MS. Screening strategies focusing on indirect physiological responses following administration of active compounds are promising approaches to strengthen existing targeted methods and ensure food safety. A metabolomics analysis based on LC-HRMS was carried out on liver extracts from bulls experimentally treated with clenbuterol combined with dexamethasone (n = 8) to mimic a potential anabolic practice, and control animals (n = 8). Nicotinic acid and 5′-deoxy-5′-methylthioadenosine were identified as biomarkers of treatment. Ratio values of such markers to others of the same metabolic pathways (nicotinamide or methionine) were used to develop a classification model to assign animals as treated with clenbuterol or non-treated. The classification model was tested on an external validation set comprising 74 animals either treated with different anabolic compounds (β-agonists, sexual steroids, corticosteroid), or non-treated, showing 100% sensitivity and specificity.
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