To determine the cause of reduced urea synthesis in cirrhosis, absolute concentrations of phosphorus metabolites in the human liver have been measured in vivo with magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy. One-dimensional chemical shift imaging was used to obtain phosphorus-31 spectra from five healthy volunteers and five patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. A reference standard included in all studies enabled the calculation of absolute concentrations. In contrast to hepatic metabolite ratios, absolute concentrations reveal that in the cirrhotic patients, concentrations of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) were significantly reduced and concentrations of phosphomonoesters slightly reduced. Intracellular pH was unchanged. Histologic evidence suggests that the amount of ATP per cell was unchanged and could not account for the reduced urea production. Instead, urea synthesis depends on the functional liver cell mass, which was reduced by 31% in alcoholic cirrhosis. Quantitative in vivo P-31 MR spectroscopy of liver has potential clinical applications and can supplement the more generally used P-31 metabolite ratios.
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