A physiologically based model for ethanol and acetaldehyde metabolism in human beings

Alcohol. 2005 Jan;35(1):3-12. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2004.11.004.


Pharmacokinetic models for ethanol metabolism have contributed to the understanding of ethanol clearance in human beings. However, these models fail to account for ethanol's toxic metabolite, acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde accumulation leads to signs and symptoms, such as cardiac arrhythmias, nausea, anxiety, and facial flushing. Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine the levels of acetaldehyde in the blood or other tissues because of artifactual formation and other technical issues. Therefore, we have constructed a promising physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) model, which is an excellent match for existing ethanol and acetaldehyde concentration-time data. The model consists of five compartments that exchange material: stomach, gastrointestinal tract, liver, central fluid, and muscle. All compartments except the liver are modeled as stirred reactors. The liver is modeled as a tubular flow reactor. We derived average enzymatic rate laws for alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), determined kinetic parameters from the literature, and found best-fit parameters by minimizing the squared error between our profiles and the experimental data. The model's transient output correlates strongly with the experimentally observed results for healthy individuals and for those with reduced ALDH activity caused by a genetic deficiency of the primary acetaldehyde-metabolizing enzyme ALDH2. Furthermore, the model shows that the reverse reaction of acetaldehyde back into ethanol is essential and keeps acetaldehyde levels approximately 10-fold lower than if the reaction were irreversible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism*
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / deficiency
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscles / metabolism


  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Acetaldehyde