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Drug Metab Dispos. 2002 Apr;30(4):446-51.

Determination of acetaminophen-protein adducts in mouse liver and serum and human serum after hepatotoxic doses of acetaminophen using high-performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205, USA.


Acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity has been attributed to covalent binding of the reactive metabolite N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine to cysteine groups on proteins as an acetaminophen-cysteine conjugate. We report a high-performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection (HPLC-ECD) assay for the conjugate with increased sensitivity compared with previous methods. Previous methods to quantitate the protein-bound conjugate have used a competitive immunoassay or radiolabeled acetaminophen. With HPLC-ECD, the protein samples are dialyzed and then digested with protease. The acetaminophen-cysteine conjugate is then quantified by HPLC-ECD using tyrosine as an internal reference. The lower limit of detection of the assay is approximately 3 pmol/mg of protein. Acetaminophen protein adducts were detected in liver and serum as early as 15 min after hepatotoxic dosing of acetaminophen to mice. Adducts were also detected in the serum of acetaminophen overdose patients. Analysis of human serum samples for the acetaminophen-cysteine conjugate revealed a positive correlation between acetaminophen-cysteine conjugate concentration and serum aspartate aminotransferase (AST) activity or time. Adducts were detected in the serum of patients even with relatively mild liver injury, as measured by AST and alanine aminotransferase. This assay may be useful in the diagnostic evaluation of patients with hepatotoxicity of an indeterminate etiology for which acetaminophen toxicity is suspect.

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