Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin, a sensitive marker of chronic alcohol abuse, is highly influenced by body iron

Tullia Maria De Feo, Silvia Fargion, Lorena Duca, Michela Mattioli, Maria Domenica Cappellini, Maurizio Sampietro, Bruno Mario Cesana, Gemino Fiorelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), a microheterogeneous form of serum transferrin (Tf), has been proposed as the most reliable marker of chronic alcohol consumption, although unexplained false-positive and - negative results have been reported. We investigated whether body iron influenced CDT serum levels by studying alcohol abusers with or without iron overload and nonabusers with iron deficiency or iron overload caused by genetic hemochromatosis (GH). In alcohol abusers, CDT was significantly lower in the presence of iron overload than in the absence (24.6 ± 16.5 U/L vs. 33.3 ± 11.7 U/L; P <.01), with false-negative results almost exclusively in patients with iron overload. Similarly, in nonabusers with GH, CDT was lower than in normal controls (9.6 ± 2.2 U/L vs. 15.7 ± 3.3 U/L; P <.0001), whereas, patients with iron deficiency anemia had significantly higher levels than controls (28.1 ± 5.8 U/L vs. 15.7 ± 3.3 U/L; P <.0001). In nonabusers, iron supplementation therapy significantly decreased CDT levels in patients with iron deficiency anemia (33.7 ± 6.6 U/L vs. 21.7 ± 5.2 U/L; P = .0007), while iron-depletion treatment significantly increased CDT levels in patients with GH (9.7 ± 2.0 U/L vs. 14.7 ± 4.0 U/L; P = .001). Alcohol abusers had a significant relationship between liver iron concentration (LIC) and the reciprocal of CDT (r = .65; P <.0001), while in nonabusers, there was a significant correlation between Tf and CDT (r = .72; P <.0001). In conclusion, CDT serum levels are markedly affected by the patient's iron status, with iron overload reducing its sensitivity in alcohol abusers and iron deficiency its specificity in nonabusers. CDT can be considered a reliable marker of alcohol abuse only when iron stores are normal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-663
Number of pages6
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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