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CLINICAL STUDY/BIOMARKER: Phosphatidylethanol: normalization during detoxification, gender aspects and correlation with other biomarkers and self-reports


Friedrich Martin Wurst, Ignaz-Harrer-Strasse 79, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria. E-mail:


Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is a direct ethanol metabolite, and has recently attracted attention as biomarker of ethanol intake. The aims of the current study are: (1) to characterize the normalization time of PEth in larger samples than previously conducted; (2) to elucidate potential gender differences; and (3) to report the correlation of PEth with other biomarkers and self-reported alcohol consumption. Fifty-seven alcohol-dependent patients (ICD 10 F 10.25; 9 females, 48 males) entering medical detoxification at three study sites were enrolled. The study sample was comprised of 48 males and 9 females, with mean age 43.5. Mean gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) was 209.61 U/l, average mean corpuscular volume (MCV) was 97.35 fl, mean carbohydrate deficient transferrin (%CDT) was 8.68, and mean total ethanol intake in the last 7 days was 1653 g. PEth was measured in heparinized whole blood with a high-pressure liquid chromatography method, while GGT, MCV and %CDT were measured using routine methods. PEth levels at day 1 of detoxification ranged between 0.63 and 26.95 µmol/l (6.22 mean, 4.70 median, SD 4.97). There were no false negatives at day 1. Sensitivities for the other biomarkers were 40.4% for MCV, 73.1% for GGT and 69.2% for %CDT, respectively. No gender differences were found for PEth levels at any time point. Our data suggest that PEth is (1) a suitable intermediate term marker of ethanol intake in both sexes; and (2) sensitivity is extraordinary high in alcohol dependent patients. The results add further evidence to the data that suggest that PEth has potential as a candidate for a sensitive and specific biomarker, which reflects longer-lasting intake of higher amounts of alcohol and seemingly has the above mentioned certain advantages over traditional biomarkers.