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The Physiological Role Of Liver Alcohol Dehydrogenase

H. A. Krebs, J. R. Perkins

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1. Yeast alcohol dehydrogenase was used to determine ethanol in the portal and hepatic veins and in the contents of the alimentary canal of rats given a diet free from ethanol. Measurable amounts of a substance behaving like ethanol were found. Its rate of interaction with yeast alcohol dehydrogenase and its volatility indicate that the substance measured was in fact ethanol. 2. The mean alcohol concentration in the portal blood of normal rats was 0.045mm. In the hepatic vein, inferior vena cava and aorta it was about 15 times lower. 3. The contents of all sections of the alimentary canal contained measurable amounts of ethanol. The highest values (average 3.7mm) were found in the stomach. 4. Infusion of pyrazole (an inhibitor of alcohol dehydrogenase) raised the alcohol concentration in the portal vein 10-fold and almost removed the difference between portal and hepatic venous blood. 5. Addition of antibiotics to the food diminished the ethanol concentration of the portal blood to less than one-quarter and that of the stomach contents to less than one-fortieth. 6. The concentration of alcohol in the alimentary canal and in the portal blood of germ-free rats was much decreased, to less than one-tenth in the alimentary canal and to one-third in the portal blood, but detectable quantities remained. These are likely to arise from acetaldehyde formed by the normal pathways of degradation of threonine, deoxyribose phosphate and β-alanine. 7. The results indicate that significant amounts of alcohol are normally formed in the gastro-intestinal tract. The alcohol is absorbed into the circulation and almost quantitatively removed by the liver. Thus the function, or a major function, of liver alcohol dehydrogenase is the detoxication of ethanol normally present. 8. The alcohol concentration in the stomach of alloxan-diabetic rats was increased about 8-fold. 9. The activity of liver alcohol dehydrogenase is generally lower in carnivores than in herbivores and omnivores, but there is no strict parallelism between the capacity of liver alcohol dehydrogenase and dietary habit. 10. The activity of alcohol dehydrogenase of gastric mucosa was much decreased in two out of the three germ-free rats tested. This is taken to indicate that the enzyme, like gastric urease, may be of microbial origin. 11. When the body was flooded with ethanol by the addition of 10% ethanol to the drinking water the alcohol concentration in the portal vein rose to 15mm and only a few percent of the incoming ethanol was cleared by the liver.