Hepatic aldehyde dehydrogenase activity is depressed in alcoholic liver disease and may account for the observation that alcoholics develop high blood acetaldehyde concentrations following ethanol. To determine whether this is a specific defect in alcoholics, aldehyde dehydrogenase was studied in liver tissue obtained from three groups of subjects. Group I comprised 30 patients with alcoholic liver disease, Group II consisted of eight subjects with liver disease unrelated to alcohol abuse and Group III was a control group of 10 individuals with no significant liver disease. Mean hepatic aldehyde dehydrogenase activity was significantly lower in Group I than in Groups II or III [4.9 ± 0.6 (mean ± S.E.), compared to 10.2 ± 1.8 and 12.4 ± 1.1 nmoles of acetaldehyde oxidized per min ± mg of protein, respectively]. Aldehyde dehydrogenase activity in Group II was relatively well maintained.
Aldehyde dehydrogenase activity was found in cytosolic and mitochondrial fractions of liver homogenates. In alcoholic subjects, cytosolic aldehyde dehydrogenase activity was not more depressed than was mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase. Isoelectric focusing demonstrated a single mitochondrial isoenzyme and a single cytosolic isoenzyme in most cases in Group III. In contrast, multiple cytosolic isoenzymes were consistently found in liver tissue from Group I subjects.
These findings suggest that depressed aldehyde dehydrogenase activity in alcoholic subjects is not a consequence of liver disease.