N-acetylcysteine prevents glutathione decrease and does not interfere with paracetamol antinociceptive effect at therapeutic dosage: a randomized double-blind controlled trial in healthy subjects

Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2019 Jun;33(3):303-311. doi: 10.1111/fcp.12437. Epub 2019 Jan 2.


Paracetamol (APAP) may lead to hepatic changes even at therapeutic dosages. Glutathione (GSH) plays a pivotal role in APAP metabolism as it allows the detoxification of a toxic metabolite. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is APAP antidote, is also largely used as a mucoactive drug and is often associated with APAP. This study aims at evaluating if 1- NAC modifies APAP pain efficacy and 2- NAC prevents glutathione depletion with APAP at therapeutic doses. This double-blind randomized controlled study (NCT02206178) was carried out in 24 healthy volunteers. APAP was given for 4 days (1 g ×4 daily) with NAC or with placebo. Thermal pain tests, whole blood GSH, and hepatic enzymes (ASAT, ALAT) were measured before (D0) and after (D4) oral APAP-NAC or APAP-placebo intake. anova for repeated measures adapted to cross-overdesign was performed and a two-tailed type I error was fixed at 5%. The primary endpoint was the area under the curve (0-240 min) of pain intensity (Numerical Scale) after thermal pain stimulation using Pathway-Medoc® . APAP antinociceptive effect was similar in both groups. GSH was maintained to its baseline value in the APAP/NAC group but diminished in the APAP/placebo group (P = 0.033). This study shows for the first time that APAP antinociceptive effectiveness is not influenced by NAC. It also shows that the effect of APAP at therapeutic dosage on GSH may be counteracted by NAC. These issues are particularly important for patients as APAP is often prescribed for years as a first-line pain treatment and further trials in patients are now warranted.

Keywords: analgesia; depletion; glutathione; pain; paracetamol; therapeutic dose.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / pharmacology*
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacology*
  • Antidotes / pharmacology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Interactions
  • Expectorants / pharmacology
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain Measurement
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Antidotes
  • Expectorants
  • Acetaminophen
  • Glutathione
  • Acetylcysteine