Evidence of increased guanylate cyclase activation by acetylcysteine in fulminant hepatic failure



Patients with fulminant hepatic failure (FHF) have a severe microcirculatory disturbance causing tissue hypoxia. Infusion of acetylcysteine improves survival and reduces the incidence of multiorgan failure by enhancing tissue oxygenation. Because the observed circulatory effects of acetylcysteine in FHF are similar to and synergistic with those produced by the microcirculatory vasodilator prostacyclin, we postulated that acetylcysteine might potentiate an endogenous vasodilator. Nitric oxide, a vasodilator that activates soluble guanylate cyclase, is a possible candidate as plasma cyclic 3′,5′-guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) is raised in FHF, and in vitro acetylcysteine has been found to enhance soluble guanylate cyclase activity. To investigate this possible mechanism further, plasma cGMP was measured before and after acetylcysteine infusion in 24 patients with FHF and again in 6 patients after recovery from acute illness. cGMP levels were high in FHF during acute illness (median, 7.0 nmol/L [interquartile range, 2.6-10.0]) in comparison with levels taken after recovery (1.5 nmol/L [1.0-1.9]; P < .05). Levels rose further after acetylcysteine infusion in the FHF cases (mean increase, 204% [95% CI; 49 to +360]; P < .01) but not in the cases after recovery (38% [-7 to +84]). There were no significant changes in levels of plasma atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) or cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) (mean increases, 8% [-6 to +22] and 17% [-9 to +43], respectively). The findings further support the hypothesis that the beneficial hemodynamic effects of acetylcysteine in FHF are mediated by enhancing the activity of the nitric oxide/soluble guanylate cyclase enzyme system.