Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin as compared to other markers of alcoholism: a systematic review

Alcohol. 1999 Nov;19(3):261-71. doi: 10.1016/s0741-8329(99)00044-0.


This is a systematic review of the studies in which carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) has been compared to other laboratory markers in different experimental conditions, clinical settings, and populations. Only the studies (n = 54) in which CDT was compared either to the conventional or new biological markers of alcoholism, heavy drinking, or alcohol use were selected for further evaluation. Two prospective studies indicate that in men CDT is slightly more sensitive than gamma-GT in reflecting changes in these markers caused by drinking of a moderate and fixed amount of alcohol during three to four weeks. In one prospective study, in which the drinking history of male heavy drinking volunteers was as close the golden standard as possible; that is, obtained by a prospective anonymous drinking diary, CDT was slightly but not significantly better marker than conventional laboratory markers (ASAT, ALAT, gamma-GT and beta-Hex) in the identification of men drinking more than 400 g of alcohol daily. Similar prospective studies concerning women have not been done. Six prospective treatment outcome studies indicate that CDT may be a significantly more sensitive marker than gamma-glutamyltransferase (gamma-GT) in the detection of relapses in male alcoholics. However, these two tests can also be considered to be complementary markers. Furthermore, in the detection of relapses the baseline values of CDT and gamma-GT should be measured and compared on individual basis to the pretreatment values. Comparable data are not available from female alcoholics. In selective materials comprising male alcoholics and heavy drinkers, CDT was found to be a slightly more sensitive marker than gamma-GT in seven retrospective studies. In five studies, gamma-GT was slightly better. However, the differences between CDT and gamma-GT in general were not statistically significant. In three studies, the combined use of CDT and gamma-GT improved the sensitivity but with the expense of specificity. Only four studies included women and in three of these the sensitivity of gamma-GT was better than that of CDT, whereas in one study CDT was better than gamma-GT in the detection of female heavy drinkers. Seven studies performed in primary health care settings and among young populations demonstrate that the performance of CDT in the identification of heavy and problem drinkers in this type of populations is very low, although comparable to the poor performance of the conventional laboratory markers, too. According to seven studies, the sensitivity of gamma-GT is slightly better than that of CDT in the identification of excessive alcohol consumption among hospitalized male and female patients. However, in this type of hospital setting, the specificity of CDT is markedly higher than that of gamma-GT. There is some evidence indicating that the performance of the tests can be improved with the combined use of both tests. Eight studies indicate that both in men and women CDT is a better marker than gamma-GT in the identification of alcohol abuse among patients with alcoholic and nonalcoholic liver diseases. This is mostly due to the higher specificity of CDT as compared to that of gamma-GT.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / blood*
  • Alcoholism / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Transferrin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Transferrin / metabolism
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood*


  • Biomarkers
  • Transferrin
  • carbohydrate-deficient transferrin
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase