Choline deficiency: a cause of hepatic steatosis during parenteral nutrition that can be reversed with intravenous choline supplementation

Hepatology. 1995 Nov;22(5):1399-403.


Patients receiving long-term total parenteral nutrition (TPN) develop hepatic steatosis as a complication. Our previous studies have shown this to be caused, at least in part, by choline deficiency. We studied four patients (1 man, 3 women) aged 50 +/- 13 years who had low plasma-free choline concentrations 4.8 +/- 1.7 (normal, 11.4 +/- 3.7 nmol/mL). The patients had received TPN for 9.7 +/- 4.7 years. They received parenteral nutrition solutions containing choline chloride (1 to 4 g/d) for 6 weeks. Abdominal computed tomography (CT) was performed at baseline, biweekly during the choline supplementation, and 4 weeks after discontinuation of choline. During choline administration, the plasma-free choline concentration increased into the normal range within 1 week in all four patients and remained at or above the normal range for all 6 weeks, but decreased back to baseline when choline supplementation was discontinued. Hepatic steatosis resolved completely, as estimated by CT. Liver density increased from -14.2 +/- 22.3 Hounsfield units (HU) to 8.4 +/- 10.3 HU at week 2 (P = .002); 9.6 +/- 10.7 HU at week 4 and 13.1 +/- 7.3 HU at week 6, as determined by the liver-spleen CT number difference obtained by the subtraction of the average spleen CT number (in HU) from the average liver CT number. This improvement continued up to 4 weeks after choline supplementation (13.8 +/- 2.8 HU). Hepatic steatosis was shown to have recurred in one patient after 10 weeks of return to choline-free parenteral nutrition. The hepatic steatosis associated with parenteral nutrition can be ameliorated, and possibly prevented, with choline supplementation. Therefore, choline may be an essential nutrient for patients who require long-term parenteral nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Choline / administration & dosage*
  • Choline Deficiency / therapy*
  • Fatty Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Fatty Liver / drug therapy
  • Fatty Liver / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Lipotropic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total / adverse effects*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Lipotropic Agents
  • Choline