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Am J Hematol. 2003 May;73(1):26-32.

Effects of N-acetylcysteine on dense cell formation in sickle cell disease.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Texas at Dallas, 2601 Floyd Road, Mail Station FO 3.1, Richardson, TX 75083, USA.


The extent to which dense and irreversible sickle cells (ISCs) contribute to vaso-occlusive episodes in sickle cell disease remains unclear. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) inhibits dense cell and ISC formation in sickle erythrocytes in vitro and restores glutathione levels toward normal. A phase II double-blind randomized clinical trial was completed to determine the efficacy of NAC in decreasing dense cell and ISC formation, and vaso-occlusive episodes in sickle cell disease. Twenty-one subjects with a history of at least two vaso-occlusive episodes per year and 6% dense cells were enrolled. Four treatment groups were analyzed; NAC at a dose of 2,400 mg per day decreased the percent dense cells from 20.1 +/- 2.9 to 12.6 +/- 2.1 (P < 0.05) and increased red cell glutathione levels from 292.8 +/- 74.5 to 576.7 +/- 155.1 (P < 0.05). In addition, we observed a decrease in vaso-occlusive episodes from 0.03 to 0.006 episodes per person-days and a decreased in relative risk to R = 0.39. Although NAC did not significantly decrease the number of ISCs, there was a downward trend at all doses tested. In summary, NAC inhibited dense cell formation, restored glutathione levels toward normal, and decreased vaso-occlusive episodes at a well-tolerated dose of 2,400 mg per day. To determine the long-term efficacy and safety of NAC, a multicenter phase III clinical trial is required.

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