Renal toxicity with sevoflurane: a storm in a teacup?

Drugs. 2001;61(15):2155-62. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200161150-00001.


The inhaled anaesthetic sevoflurane is metabolised into two products that have the potential to produce renal injury. Fluoride ions are produced by oxidative defluorination of sevoflurane by the cytochrome P450 system in the liver. Until recently, inorganic fluoride has been thought to be the aetiological agent responsible for fluorinated anaesthetic nephrotoxicity, with a toxic concentration threshold of 50 micromol/L in serum. However, studies of sevoflurane administration in animals and humans have not shown evidence of fluoride-induced nephrotoxicity, despite serum fluoride concentrations in this range. Compound A (fluoromethyl-2,2-difluoro-1-[trifluoromethyl] vinyl ether) is a breakdown product of sevoflurane produced by its interaction with carbon dioxide absorbents in the anaesthesia machine. The patient then inhales compound A. Compound A produces evidence of transient renal injury in rats. The mechanism of compound A renal toxicity is controversial, with the debate focused on the role of the renal cysteine conjugate beta-lyase pathway in the biotransformation of compound A. The significance of this debate centres on the fact that the beta-lyase pathway is 10- to 30-fold less active in humans than in rats. Therefore, if biotransformation by this pathway is responsible for the production of nephrotoxic metabolites of compound A, humans may be less susceptible to compound A renal toxicity than are rats. In three studies in human volunteers and one in surgical patients, prolonged (8-hour) sevoflurane exposures and low fresh gas flow rates resulted in significant exposures to compound A. Transient abnormalities were found in biochemical markers of renal injury measured in urine. These studies suggested that sevoflurane can result in renal toxicity, mediated by compound A, under specific circumstances. However, other studies using prolonged sevoflurane administration at low flow rates did not find evidence of renal injury. Finally, there are substantial data to document the safety of sevoflurane administered for shorter durations or at higher fresh gas flow rates. Therefore, the United States Food and Drug Administration recommends the use of sevoflurane with fresh gas flow rates at least 1 L/min for exposures up to 1 hour and at least 2 L/min for exposures greater than 1 hour. We believe this is a rational, cautious approach based on available data. However, it is important to note that other countries have not recommended such limitations on the clinical use of sevoflurane and problems have not been noted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Movements
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / administration & dosage
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / adverse effects*
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / metabolism
  • Drug Interactions
  • Ethers / administration & dosage
  • Ethers / adverse effects*
  • Gases
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Fluorinated / administration & dosage
  • Hydrocarbons, Fluorinated / adverse effects*
  • Kidney / drug effects
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Methyl Ethers / administration & dosage
  • Methyl Ethers / adverse effects*
  • Methyl Ethers / metabolism
  • Sevoflurane


  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Ethers
  • Gases
  • Hydrocarbons, Fluorinated
  • Methyl Ethers
  • Sevoflurane
  • fluoromethyl 2,2-difluoro-1-(trifluoromethyl)vinyl ether