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Glutathione deficiency in alcoholics: risk factor for paracetamol hepatotoxicity.
  1. B H Lauterburg,
  2. M E Velez
  1. Department of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Berne, Switzerland.

    Abstract

    Patients chronically abusing ethanol are more susceptible to the hepatotoxic effects of paracetamol. This could be due to an increased activation of the drug to a toxic metabolite or to a decreased capacity to detoxify the toxic metabolite by conjugation with glutathione (GSH). To test these hypotheses paracetamol 2 g was administered to five chronic alcoholics without clinical evidence of alcoholic liver disease and five control subjects. The urinary excretion of cysteine- plus N-acetyl-cysteine-paracetamol, the two major products of detoxification of the reactive metabolite of paracetamol, was not significantly higher in chronic alcoholics arguing against a substantially increased metabolic activation of paracetamol. Chronic alcoholics had significantly lower plasma concentrations of GSH than healthy volunteers, however (4.35 (1.89) microM v 8.48 (2.68) microM, p less than 0.05) before the administration of paracetamol, and plasma GSH reached lower concentrations in the alcoholics after paracetamol (2.40 (1.36) v 6.26 (2.96) microM). In a group of patients with alcoholic hepatitis intrahepatic GSH was significantly lower than in patients with chronic persistent hepatitis and patients with non-alcoholic cirrhosis, suggesting that low plasma GSH in alcoholics reflects low hepatic concentrations of GSH. The data indicate that low GSH may be a risk factor for paracetamol hepatotoxicity in alcoholics because a lower dose of paracetamol will be necessary to deplete GSH below the critical threshold concentration where hepatocellular necrosis starts to occur.

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