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Biological functions of cobalt and its toxicology and detection in anti-doping control

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Objectives. Over the last decade, hematopoietic stimulants have grown increasingly popular in elite sports. This is supported by the growing number of high-profile doping scandals linked to their use. A group of these stimulants includes cobalt salts, which cause an increase in the oxygen capacity of the blood as well as a powerful stimulation of metabolic processes, resulting innoticeable competitive advantages. The use of cobalt salts is regulated according to the Prohibited List of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Currently, only a few works have been dedicated to solving the problem of detecting the abuse of cobalt salts in anti-doping control. Only a few laboratories have included cobalt salt determination in their methodological bases. The purpose of this review is to attract the attention of the scientific community to the toxicity of cobalt compounds, consequences of their intake, and pharmacokinetics, as well as the problems in their detection methods due to their widespread availability in the modern market and the growing number of abuse cases.
Results. The main biological functions of cobalt, cellular levels of exposure, toxicity, and symptoms of cobalt salt poisoning are presented in detail in this review article. The data from the literature on the main methods for detecting cobalt as a doping agent have been generalized and systematized. There is a major focus on the amount of cobalt in dietary supplements that could cause an athlete to test positive for cobalt when they are consumed.
Conclusions. After analyzing promising cobalt detection approaches and methods, it was determined that high-performance liquid chromatography in combination with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry has an undeniable advantage for detecting cobalt as a doping agent. The lack of explicit WADA requirements for detection methods and the lack of its obligation to determine cobalt make it tempting for unscrupulous athletes to use its salts. Therefore, antidoping laboratories must implement the abovementioned method as soon as possible.

About the Authors

I. V. Pronina
National Anti-Doping Laboratory (Institute), Lomonosov Moscow State University; Institute of General Pathology and Pathophysiology
Russian Federation

Irina V. Pronina, Cand. Sci. (Chem.), Main Specialist, Doping Control Department; Senior Researcher, Pathogenomics and Transcriptomics Laboratory

10-1, Elizavetinskii per., Moscow, 105005

8, ul. Baltiiskaya, Moscow, 125315

Scopus Author ID 8161867200

ResearcherID G-3951-2014

Competing Interests:

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

E. S. Mochalova
National Anti-Doping Laboratory (Institute), Lomonosov Moscow State University
Russian Federation

Elena S. Mochalova, Acting Director


10-1, Elizavetinskii per., Moscow, 105005

Competing Interests:

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Yu. A. Efimova
MIREA – Russian Technological University (M.V. Lomonosov Institute of Fine Chemical Technologies)
Russian Federation

Yuliya A. Efimova, Cand. Sci. (Chem.), Assistant Professor, I.P. Alimarin Department of Analitical Chemistry

86, Vernadskogo pr., Moscow, 119571

Competing Interests:

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

P. V. Postnikov
National Anti-Doping Laboratory (Institute), Lomonosov Moscow State University
Russian Federation

Pavel V. Postnikov, Cand. Sci. (Chem.), Head of the Doping Control Department

10-1, Elizavetinskii per., Moscow, 105005

Competing Interests:

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Supplementary files

1. The effect of HIF at normal partial pressure of oxygen is normoxia in the cell and at oxygen deficiency is hypoxia (similar to the effect of cobalt preparations)
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2. This is to certify that the paper titled Biological functions of cobalt and its toxicology and detection in anti-doping control commissioned to us by Irina V. Pronina, Elena S. Mochalova, Yuliya A. Efimova, Pavel V. Postnikov has been edited for English language and spelling by Enago, an editing brand of Crimson Interactive Inc.
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  • For the first time, a literature review on the use of cobalt salts as blood-forming stimulants and doping agents is presented. They are included in the WADA Prohibited List.
  • Only a few anti-doping control laboratories introduce regulated approaches fordefining this type of doping agent into their methodological base.
  • The main methods for detecting cobalt as a doping agent are generalized and systematized.
  • The conclusion is made regarding the undeniable advantage of the HPLC–ICP–MS method, which is its ability to distinguish endogenous cobalt, which is a component of cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12), from the prohibited inorganic cobalt.


For citations:

Pronina I.V., Mochalova E.S., Efimova Yu.A., Postnikov P.V. Biological functions of cobalt and its toxicology and detection in anti-doping control. Fine Chemical Technologies. 2021;16(4):318-336.

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