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EXCLI J. 2016 Dec 15;15:817-828. doi: 10.17179/excli2016-800. eCollection 2016.

The past and present of serum aminotransferases and the future of liver injury biomarkers.

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Div. of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine, Dept. of Pathology and Immunology; Dept. of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA.


Laboratory testing is important in the diagnosis and monitoring of liver injury and disease. Current liver tests include plasma markers of injury (e.g. aminotransferases, γ-glutamyl transferase, and alkaline phosphatase), markers of function (e.g. prothrombin time, bilirubin), viral hepatitis serologies, and markers of proliferation (e.g. α-fetoprotein). Among the injury markers, the alanine and aspartate aminotransferases (ALT and AST, respectively) are the most commonly used. However, interpretation of ALT and AST plasma levels can be complicated. Furthermore, both have poor prognostic utility in acute liver injury and liver failure. New biomarkers of liver injury are rapidly being developed, and the US Food and Drug Administration the European Medicines Agency have recently expressed support for use of some of these biomarkers in drug trials. The purpose of this paper is to review the history of liver biomarkers, to summarize mechanisms and interpretation of ALT and AST elevation in plasma in liver injury (particularly acute liver injury), and to discuss emerging liver injury biomarkers that may complement or even replace ALT and AST in the future.


biomarkers; diagnostics; liver disease; liver injury; mechanistic biomarkers

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