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J Lab Clin Med. 2002 Aug;140(2):79-83.

Formation of phosphatidylethanol in vitro in red blood cells from healthy volunteers and chronic alcoholics.

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  • 1Department of Medical Neurochemistry, Institute of Laboratory Medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden. Arthur.Varga@neurokemi.lu.se


Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is an abnormal phospholipid, formed only in the presence of ethanol via a transphosphatidylation reaction of phospholipase D (PLD). PEth in blood is a promising new marker of alcohol abuse. Blood PEth is found almost exclusively in red cells. This study was performed to investigate a possible PEth formation in human red cells from alcoholics and healthy individuals, at physiologically relevant ethanol concentrations. Blood was drawn from six healthy volunteers (controls) and six chronic inpatient alcoholics. Hematological analyses were performed, and red blood cells were separated and incubated in plasma with ethanol to study PEth formation. Lipids were extracted and PEth analyzed with high pressure liquid chromatography and evaporative light-scattering detection. Incubation of red cells in 50 mM ethanol yielded detectable PEth after 12 hours. Formation of PEth was concentration dependent at 10 to 50 mM ethanol. In vitro formation of PEth was significantly higher (P <.001) in red cells from alcoholics (5.2 +/- 1.1 micromol/l) compared to controls (2.4 +/- 0.6 micromol/l) (mean +/- SD). A significant correlation (P <.01) was observed between initial mean corpuscular volume and accumulated PEth. This study demonstrates that PEth is formed in human red cells at physiologically relevant ethanol concentrations. Alcoholics accumulate about twice as much PEth than controls. The accumulation rate of PEth is slower in red cells compared to rates reported for other tissues.

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  • Markers of alcohol abuse. [J Lab Clin Med. 2002]
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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