Alcoholic pancreatitis: New insights into the pathogenesis and treatment

World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2016 Feb 15;7(1):48-58. doi: 10.4291/wjgp.v7.i1.48.


Acute pancreatitis is a necro-inflammatory disease of the exocrine pancreas that is characterized by inappropriate activation of zymogens, infiltration of the pancreas by inflammatory cells, and destruction of the pancreatic exocrine cells. Acute pancreatitis can progress to a severe life-threatening disease. Currently there is no pharmacotherapy to prevent or treat acute pancreatitis. One of the more common factors associated with acute pancreatitis is alcohol abuse. Although commonly associated with pancreatitis alcohol alone is unable to cause pancreatitis. Instead, it appears that alcohol and its metabolic by-products predispose the pancreas to damage from agents that normally do not cause pancreatitis, or to more severe disease from agents that normally cause mild pancreatic damage. Over the last 10 to 20 years, a tremendous amount of work has defined a number of alcohol-mediated biochemical changes in pancreatic cells. Among these changes are: Sustained levels of intracellular calcium, activation of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore, endoplasmic reticulum stress, impairment in autophagy, alteration in the activity of transcriptional activators, and colocalization of lysosomal and pancreatic digestive enzymes. Elucidation of these changes has led to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms by which ethanol predisposes acinar cells to damage. This greater understanding has revealed a number of promising targets for therapeutic intervention. It is hoped that further investigation of these targets will lead to the development of pharmacotherapy that is effective in treating and preventing the progression of acute pancreatitis.

Keywords: Acute pancreatitis; Alcohol; Alcoholic pancreatitis; Ethanol metabolism; Fatty acid ethyl esters; Pancreatitis.

Publication types

  • Review