Background/aims: The dynamics of glutathione in plasma has always been studied by bolus injections. Data are available suggesting that the low plasma levels of cirrhosis are due to decreased production in glutathione-producing tissues, mainly the liver. We aimed to measure the kinetics of glutathione during controlled steady-state conditions, and to determine the reasons for its reduced plasma levels in advanced cirrhosis.
Methods: The plasma clearance of glutathione was measured in six control subjects and in ten patients with cirrhosis during a 2-step infusion study, producing steady-state levels approximately 5 and 10 times basal values. The plasma disappearance curve after infusion stop was used to determine the apparent volume of distribution and half-life of glutathione, and the estimated basal appearance rate.
Results: The clearance of glutathione did not reject 1st-order kinetics, i.e., it was concentration-independent, and was nearly doubled in cirrhosis. The half-life of exogenous glutathione was not different, whereas the volume of distribution was larger in cirrhosis, in the same range as extracellular water. The endogenous basal appearance rate of glutathione was reduced by 50%, and correlated with liver function, measured by routine and dynamic tests.
Conclusions: The data confirm that the primary defect responsible for reduced glutathione in liver disease is a reduced production, possibly related to hepatocyte dysfunction and a block along the pathway of methionine metabolism.