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Blut. 1989 Sep;59(3):231-6.

Alcohol-induced bone marrow damage: status before and after a 4-week period of abstinence from alcohol with or without disulfiram. A randomized bone marrow study in alcohol-dependent individuals.

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  • 1Medical Department, Regional Hospital, Laufenburg, Switzerland.


The investigation described in this paper has confirmed the existence of alcohol-induced bone marrow damage as a nosological entity in alcohol-dependent individuals. In our patients total abstinence from alcohol without disulfiram or similar drugs led to reversal of the pathological findings in peripheral blood and in bone marrow. In patients undergoing detoxification while taking disulfiram, on the other hand, the pathological bone marrow findings, especially erythropoiesis associated with impaired iron utilization, persisted. The metabolic pathway of disulfiram is discussed. It is probably justifiable to assume that the toxin responsible for alcohol-induced bone marrow damage is the ethanol metabolite acetaldehyde. The persistence of erythropoiesis with impaired iron utilization during abstinence from alcohol and treatment with disulfiram is also of importance in differential diagnosis from the myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and especially from refractory anaemia with ring sideroblasts (RARS). For this reason, where the situation is unclear, it is essential that a diagnosis of MDS be supported by specific investigations such as cell cultures, cytogenetic analyses, etc. It is the first time that the toxic, alcohol-like-effect of disulfiram on haematopoiesis is discussed.

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