Phosphatidylethanol Detects Moderate-to-Heavy Alcohol Use in Liver Transplant Recipients

Michael Francis Fleming, Matthew J. Smith, Erika Oslakovic*, Michael R. Lucey, Jenny X. Vue, Patrice Al-Saden, Josh Levitsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Background: Alcohol-dependent liver transplantation (LT) patients who resume alcohol consumption are at risk for a number of alcohol-related problems including liver injury and liver failure. Post-LT patients are strongly advised to remain abstinent. However, we do not know how well this population complies due to a lack of valid methods (self-report and/or biomarkers) to identify alcohol use. Studies suggest as many as 50% resume alcohol use within 5 years. Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is a new cell-membrane phospholipid biomarker to identify alcohol use in the past 28 days. This prospective study followed 213 LT recipients at 2 U.S. liver transplant centers. Methods: Sample included 213 LT subjects; 70.9% (n = 151/213) had a history of alcohol dependence prior to transplantation and 29.1% (n = 62/213) served as non-alcohol-dependent controls. Subjects participated in face-to-face interviews to assess alcohol use using a 30-day calendar. The protocol called for collecting blood samples at baseline, 6-, and 12-month follow-up. Results: Seventy percent (149/213) who reported no alcohol use had consistently negative PEth levels (<8 ng/ml). A total of 26.4% (57/213), 44 alcohol-dependent patients and 13 controls, had a positive PEth test of >8 ng/ml either at baseline and/or during the follow-up period. Alcohol-dependent subjects (23.8%; n = 36/151) and 16.1% (n = 10/62) controls reported no alcohol use but had at least 1 positive PEth test. Of the 11.2% (24/213) post-LT subjects who reported recent alcohol use, over half (11/24) had a positive PEth. The 13 self-reported alcohol users with a negative PEth level reported insufficient drinking to trigger PEth formation. Conclusions: Adoption of PEth as part of routine posttransplant care of LT recipients will enable early identification of patients at risk of alcohol use and facilitate abstinence in patients with a history of alcohol dependence and alcohol-related liver damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)857-862
Number of pages6
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Alcohol Use
  • Liver Transplant
  • PEth Biomarker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology


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