In vitro binding studies of drugs to hair: Influence of melanin and lipids on cocaine binding to Caucasoid and Africoid hair

Robert E. Joseph, Tsung Ping Su, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Although the mechanism(s) of drug deposition in hair are unknown, there is evidence that suggests that the amount and type of melanin present are major factors in determining how much drug enters hair after exposure. The role of other hair components, such as lipids, has received less attention. We used in vitro binding techniques to evaluate the binding of radiolabeled cocaine to different types of treated and untreated hair specimens. Divided male and female Caucasoid (black/brown and blond colored) and Africoid (black colored) hair specimens (N = 7) were exhaustively extracted to remove lipid components (lipid-extracted hair). Separate portions were bleached to denature or after melanin content. Experiments with radiolabeled cocaine were performed on untreated, lipid-extracted, and bleached portions of hair from different groups. Cocaine binding was significantly higher (p < .01) to male Africoid hair compared with other groups. The amount of drug binding was similar among female Africoid and male and female, black/brown Caucasoid specimens. The lowest amount of binding was observed with blond, female Caucasoid specimens. Binding experiments also revealed that specific cocaine binding generally did not differ significantly between lipid-extracted hair and untreated hair, but bleaching of most hair specimens resulted in significant (p < .01) decreases in specific binding compared with untreated hair. In separate experiments with cocaine-treated hair specimens, digested samples were evaluated to determine if removal of the insoluble melanin fraction from soluble hair components provided a means of normalization of drug content and elimination of color bias. Removal of the insoluble melanin fraction was not effective in removal of significant amounts of cocaine, which indicated that the digestion process released bound cocaine into the digest solution. Overall, these experiments suggested that lipids in hair play a minor role in drug binding, whereas melanin functions as a major binding site for cocaine. Natural (ethnic) or artificial (bleaching) differences in melanin content may determine the extent of cocaine entrapment in hair after drug exposure. Further, digestion of hair samples and removal of insoluble melanin failed to be effective in removal of hair color bias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-344
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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