Factors associated with serum alanine transaminase activity in healthy subjects: consequences for the definition of normal values, for selection of blood donors, and for patients with chronic hepatitis C. MULTIVIRC Group

Hepatology. 1998 May;27(5):1213-9. doi: 10.1002/hep.510270505.


In clinical research, the definition of the upper limit of normal (ULN) alanine transaminase (ALT) is never detailed. However, such a definition can vary and may have practical consequences. Our aim was to assess factors associated with serum ALT activity in apparently healthy subjects and then to apply seven different definitions of ULN in three different populations so as to assess the prevalence of subjects with normal ALT among blood donors and among hepatitis C patients before (normal ALT hepatitis C patients) and after treatment (interferon [IFN] responders). ALT measurements were performed in the same laboratory using the same technique; 1,033 donors were prospectively investigated, 186 patients with hepatitis C never treated and 40 patients treated with 3 MU three times per week of IFN-alpha for at least 6 months. The seven definitions (D) of ULN were: D1: 95th percentile of ALT; D2: 95th percentile after separating males and females; D3: males and females separately, ULN=10 (mean of log10 ALT + 1.96 SD); D4: ULN=45 IU/L given by the manufacturer; D5: mean + 1 SD after exclusion of the 5% extreme values; D6: 95th percentile after separating subjects with body mass index (BMI) under or equal to the median (23); and D7: 95th percentile after separating subjects according to BMI and sex. BMI and male sex were independently associated (P < .0001; logistic regression) with ALT, without an association with alcohol. The range of ULN varied from 26 IU/L in females (D5) to 66 IU/L in males with BMI >23 (D7). Depending on the definition, the prevalence of blood donors with normal ALT varied from 82% to 96%, i.e., a range of 14%; that of hepatitis C patients with normal ALT varied from 16% to 27%, i.e., a range of 11%; the prevalence of IFN responders varied from 25% to 42%, i.e., a range of 17%. Definitions of normal ALT values should be adjusted for sex and BMI to reduce artificial heterogeneity in blood donor selection and in hepatitis C clinical studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Alanine Transaminase / standards*
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Blood Donors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / enzymology*
  • Humans
  • Interferons / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Interferons
  • Alanine Transaminase