Postabsorptive plasma citrulline concentration is a marker of absorptive enterocyte mass and intestinal failure in humans

Gastroenterology. 2000 Dec;119(6):1496-505. doi: 10.1053/gast.2000.20227.


Background & aims: No blood marker assessing the functional absorptive bowel length has been identified. Plasma citrulline, a nonprotein amino acid produced by intestinal mucosa, is one candidate. We tested this hypothesis in adult patients with the short-bowel syndrome, whose condition can lead to intestinal failure.

Methods: In 57 patients, after a minimal follow-up of 2 years subsequent to final digestive circuit modification, postabsorptive citrulline concentration was measured and parenteral nutrition dependence was used to define permanent (n = 37) and transient (n = 20) intestinal failure. Absorptive function, studied over a 3-day period, was evaluated by net digestive absorption for protein and fat (n = 51). Relations between quantitative values were assessed by linear regression analysis and cutoff citrulline threshold, for a diagnosis of intestinal failure by linear discriminant analysis. Cox model was used to compare citrulline threshold and anatomic variables of the short bowel as indicators of transient as opposed to permanent intestinal failure.

Results: In patients with short-bowel syndrome, citrulline levels were lower than in controls (n = 51): 20 +/- 13 vs. 40 +/- 10 micromol/L (mean +/- SD), respectively (P < 0.001). After multivariate analysis, citrullinemia was correlated to small bowel length (P < 0.0001, r = 0.86) and to net digestive absorption of fat, but to neither body mass index nor creatinine clearance. A 20-micromol/L threshold citrullinemia, (1) classified short bowel patients with permanent intestinal failure with high sensitivity (92%), specificity (90%), positive predictive value (95%), and negative value (86%); and (2) was a more reliable indicator (odds ratio, 20.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.9-206.1) than anatomic variables (odds ratio, 2.9; 95% confidence interval, 0. 5-15.8) to separate transient as opposed to permanent intestinal failure.

Conclusions: In patients with short-bowel syndrome, postabsorptive plasma citrulline concentration is a marker of functional absorptive bowel length and, past the 2-year adaptive period, a powerful independent indicator allowing distinction of transient from permanent intestinal failure.

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Citrulline / blood*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Enterocytes / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestines / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Short Bowel Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Short Bowel Syndrome / pathology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Citrulline