Prognostic Value of the 13 C-Methacetin Breath Test in Adults with Acute Liver Failure and Non-acetaminophen Acute Liver Injury

Hepatology. 2021 Aug;74(2):961-972. doi: 10.1002/hep.31783.


Background and aims: The 13 C-methacetin breath test (MBT) is a noninvasive, quantitative hepatic metabolic function test. The aim of this prospective, multicenter study was to determine the utility of initial and serial 13 C-MBT in predicting 21-day outcomes in adults with acute liver failure (ALF) and non-acetaminophen acute liver injury (ALI).

Approach and results: The 13 C-MBT BreathID device (Exalenz Biosciences, Ltd.) provided the percent dose recovery (PDR) for a duration of 60 minutes after administration of 13 C-methacetin solution as the change in exhaled 13 CO2 /12 CO2 compared with pre-ingestion ratio on study days 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7. Results were correlated with 21-day transplant-free survival and other prognostic indices. A total of 280 subjects were screened for enrollment between May 2016 and August 2019. Median age of the 62 enrolled patients with adequate data was 43 years, 79% were Caucasian, 76% had ALF with the remaining 24% having ALI. The mean PDR peak on day 1 or day 2 was significantly lower in nonsurvivors compared with transplant-free survivors (2.3%/hour vs. 9.1%/hour; P < 0.0001). In addition, serial PDR peaks were consistently lower in nonsurvivors versus survivors (P < 0.0001). The area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC) of the 13 C-MBT in the combined cohort was 0.88 (95% CI: 0.79-0.97) and higher than that provided by King's College (AUROC = 0.70) and Model for End-Stage Liver Disease scores (AUROC = 0.83). The 13 C-MBT was well tolerated with only two gastrointestinal adverse events reported.

Conclusions: The 13 C-MBT is a promising tool to estimate the likelihood of hepatic recovery in patients with ALF and ALI. Use of the PDR peak data from the 13 C-MBT point-of-care test may assist with medical decision making and help avoid unnecessary transplantation in critically ill patients with ALF and ALI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetamides / administration & dosage
  • Acetamides / analysis*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / diagnosis*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / mortality
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / surgery
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods
  • Disease Progression
  • End Stage Liver Disease / epidemiology*
  • End Stage Liver Disease / pathology
  • End Stage Liver Disease / surgery
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Failure, Acute / diagnosis*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / mortality
  • Liver Failure, Acute / pathology
  • Liver Failure, Acute / surgery
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Point-of-Care Testing*
  • Prognosis
  • ROC Curve
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Young Adult


  • Acetamides
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • methacetin
  • Carbon-13