Background & aims: Acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause of acute liver failure (ALF) in the United States and Great Britain, but may be underrecognized in certain settings. Acetaminophen-protein adducts are specific biomarkers of drug-related toxicity in animal models and can be measured in tissue or blood samples. Measurement of serum adducts might improve diagnostic accuracy in acute liver failure (ALF) patients.
Methods: We measured serum acetaminophen-protein adducts using high-pressure liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection in coded sera of 66 patients with ALF collected prospectively at 24 US tertiary referral centers. Samples were included from 20 patients with well-characterized acetaminophen-related acute liver failure, 10 patients with ALF owing to other well-defined causes, 36 patients with ALF of indeterminate etiology, and 15 additional patients without ALF but with known acetaminophen overdose and minimal or no biochemical liver injury.
Results: Acetaminophen-protein adducts were detected in serum in 100% of known acetaminophen ALF patients and in none of the ALF patients with other defined causes, yielding a sensitivity and specificity of 100%. In daily serial samples, serum adducts decreased in parallel with aminotransferase levels. Seven of 36 (19%) indeterminate cases demonstrated adducts in serum suggesting that acetaminophen toxicity caused or contributed to ALF in these patients. Low adduct levels were present in 2 of 15 patients with acetaminophen overdose without significant liver injury.
Conclusions: Measurement of serum acetaminophen-protein adducts reliably identified acetaminophen toxicity, and may be a useful diagnostic test for cases lacking historical data or other clinical information.