β-agonist compounds can be misused in food-producing animals for growth promoting purposes. Efficient methods based on mass spectrometry detection have been developed to ensure the control of such veterinary drug residues. Nevertheless, the use of “cocktails” composed of mixtures of low amounts of several substances as well as the synthesis of new compounds of unknown structure prevent efficient prevention. To circumvent those problems, new analytical tools able to detect such abuse are today mandatory. In this context, metabolomics may represent a new emerging strategy for investigating the global physiological effects associated to a family of substances and therefore, to suspect the administration of β-agonists (either “cocktails” or unknown compounds). As a first demonstration of feasibility, an untargeted metabolomic approach based on liquid chromatography coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry measurements was developed and made it possible to highlight metabolic modifications in urine consecutively to a clenbuterol administration. By the means of chemometrics, those metabolic differences were used to build predictive models able to suspect clenbuterol administration in calves. This new approach may be considered of valuable interest to overcome current limitations in the control of growth promoters' abuse, with promising perspectives in terms of screening.
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