Background: Previous studies have shown that serum total sialic acid (TSA) concentration significantly increases during alcohol abuse. Chronic ethanol consumption impairs glycosylation of many proteins. The increased desialylation rate of serum glycoproteins is one of the effects of alcohol abuse. The aim of this study was to investigate the diagnostic value of free sialic acid (FSA) as a marker of alcohol abuse.
Methods: We determined serum FSA concentrations in the group of 156 alcoholic subjects and 35 healthy control subjects by means of a modification of the thiobarbituric acid method. The alcoholic group was divided into subgroups according to their history of abuse.
Results: The FSA concentration was significantly higher in alcoholic subjects than in healthy controls. The subjects who consumed alcohol for longer than a week showed significantly higher FSA level than those who consumed alcohol for a shorter period. The serum FSA concentration was significantly higher in alcoholic subjects with elevated markers of liver dysfunction. The diagnostic accuracy of FSA was high, although it did not differ from TSA, and was limited by its low sensitivity.
Conclusions: This study shows that FSA concentration in the sera of alcoholic subjects is increased. The low diagnostic sensitivity is accompanied by high specificity, however the accuracy is high and similar to the accuracy of TSA. Free sialic acid does not seem to be a better marker of alcohol abuse than TSA and current markers.