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Rapid Detection of Oleander Poisoning Using Digoxin Immunoassays: Comparison of Five Assays

Dasgupta, Amitava*; Datta, Pradip

Original Article

Oleander is an ornamental shrub that grows in the United States, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, China, and other parts of the world. All parts of the plant are poisonous because the presence of cardiac glycoside oleandrin. Despite its toxicity, oleander extract is used in folk medicines. Because of its structural similarity, oleandrin cross-reacts with the fluorescence polarization immunoassay (FPIA) for digoxin. We studied the potential of detecting oleandrin in serum using 5 common digoxin immunoassays (FPIA, MEIA, both from Abbott; Beckman digoxin assay on Synchron LX, Chemiluminescent assay, CLIA from Bayer Diagnostics) and a recently FDA-approved turbidimetric assay on the ADVIA 1650 analyzer (Bayer). Aliquots of drug-free and digoxin-like immunoreactive substances (DLIS)-free serum pools were supplemented with ethanol extract of oleander leaves or oleandrin (Sigma Chemicals) in amounts expected in vivo after severe overdose. We observed significant apparent digoxin concentration with FPIA, Beckman, and the new turbidimetric assay (1 mL drug-free serum supplemented with 5.0 μL of oleander extract: apparent digoxin 2.36 ng/mL by the FPIA, 0.32 ng/mL by the MEIA, 0.93 ng/mL by the Beckman, 0.82 ng/mL by the new turbidimetric assay). The CLIA showed no cross-reactivity. Similar observations were made when serum pools were supplemented with oleandrin. Because cross reactivity should be tested in the presence of the primary analyte, we supplemented serum pools prepared from patients receiving digoxin with oleander extract or oleandrin. Thje measured digoxin concentrations were falsely elevated with the FPIA, Beckman, and turbidimetric assays, the highest false elevation being observed with the FPIA. Surprisingly, apparent digoxin concentrations were falsely lowered when MEIA was used. Digibind neutralizes free apparent digoxin concentration in vitro in serum pools supplemented with oleander extract, and this effect can be measured by the FPIA. We conclude that FPIA is most sensitive to detect the presence of oleander in serum. In contrast, the CLIA (no cross-reactivity) should be used for monitoring digoxin in a patient receiving digoxin and self-medicated with a herbal remedy containing oleander.

From the *Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Texas-Houston Medical School, Houston, Texas; and †Bayer Diagnostics, Tarrytown, New York.

Received for publication November 24, 2003; accepted March 24, 2004.

Reprints: Dr Amitava Dasgupta, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Texas-Houston Medical School, 6431 Fannin, MSB 2.292, Houston, TX 77030 (e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.