Acetaldehyde is a major metabolic product of ethanol and is found in high concentrations in the serum during alcohol abuse. The effects of acetaldehyde on isolated rat liver cells and on purified hepatocyte plasma membrane vesicles have been studied. In concentrations of 0-10 millimolar acetaldehyde has been shown to have no detectable effect on either hepatocyte metabolism or gross membrane function and is therefore unlikely to act as a direct metabolic poison. Acetaldehyde, however, is shown to bind to hepatocyte membranes via intermediary Schiff's base formation. The adduction of acetaldehyde to liver cell plasma membranes may have an effect on membrane structure. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that any injurious effect of acetaldehyde on the liver may be mediated via the immune system rather than being a direct effect on cell metabolism.
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