|Trade names||Acetadote, Fluimucil, Mucomyst, Parvolex|
|By mouth, injection, inhalation|
|ATC code||R05CB01 (WHO) S01XA08 (WHO) V03AB23 (WHO)|
|Protein binding||50 to 83%|
|Biological half-life||5.6 hours|
|Excretion||Renal (30%), faecal (3%)|
|Chemical and physical data|
|3D model (Jmol)||Interactive image|
|Specific rotation||+5 ° (c = 3% in water)|
|Melting point||109 to 110 °C (228 to 230 °F)|
|(what is this?)|
Acetylcysteine, also known as N-acetylcysteine or N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), is a medication used to treat paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdose and to loosen thick mucus such as in cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It can be taken intravenously, by mouth, or inhaled as a mist.
Common side effects include nausea and vomiting when taken by mouth. The skin may occasionally become red and itchy with either form. A non immune type of anaphylaxis may also occur. It appears to be safe in pregnancy. It works by increasing glutathione levels and binding with the toxic breakdown products of paracetamol.
Acetylcysteine was initially patented in 1960 and licensed for use in 1968. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the medications needed in a basic health system. It is available as a generic medication and is not very expensive.
Intravenous and oral formulations of acetylcysteine are available for the treatment of paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdose. When paracetamol is taken in large quantities, a minor metabolite called N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) accumulates within the body. It is normally conjugated by glutathione, but when taken in excess, the body's glutathione reserves are not sufficient to inactivate the toxic NAPQI. This metabolite is then free to react with key hepatic enzymes, thereby damaging liver cells. This may lead to severe liver damage and even death by acute liver failure.
In the treatment of acetaminophen overdose, acetylcysteine acts to maintain or replenish depleted glutathione reserves in the liver and enhance non-toxic metabolism of acetaminophen. These actions serve to protect liver cells from NAPQI toxicity. It is most effective in preventing or lessening hepatic injury when administered within 8–10 hours after overdose. Research suggests that the rate of liver toxicity is approximately 3% when acetylcysteine is administered within 10 hours of overdose.
Although both IV and oral acetylcysteine are equally effective for this indication, oral administration is poorly tolerated because high oral doses are required due to low oral bioavailability, because of its very unpleasant taste and odour, and because of adverse effects, particularly nausea and vomiting. Prior pharmacokinetic studies of acetylcysteine did not consider acetylation as a reason for the low bioavailability of acetylcysteine. Oral acetylcysteine is identical in bioavailability to cysteine precursors. However, 3% to 6% of people given intravenous acetylcysteine show a severe, anaphylaxis-like allergic reaction, which may include extreme breathing difficulty (due to bronchospasm), a decrease in blood pressure, rash, angioedema, and sometimes also nausea and vomiting. Repeated doses of intravenous acetylcysteine will cause these allergic reactions to progressively worsen in these people.
Inhaled acetylcysteine has been used for mucolytic ("mucus-dissolving") therapy in addition to other therapies in respiratory conditions with excessive and/or thick mucus production. It is also used post-operatively, as a diagnostic aid, and in tracheotomy care. It may be considered ineffective in cystic fibrosis. A 2013 Cochrane review in cystic fibrosis found no evidence of benefit.
Oral acetylcysteine is used for the prevention of radiocontrast-induced nephropathy (a form of acute kidney failure). Some studies show that prior administration of acetylcysteine decreases radiocontrast nephropathy, whereas others do not. It has been concluded that
- "Intravenous and oral N-acetylcysteine may prevent contrast-medium–induced nephropathy with a dose-dependent effect in patients treated with primary angioplasty and may improve hospital outcome."
- "Acetylcysteine protects patients with moderate chronic renal insufficiency from contrast-induced deterioration in renal function after coronary angiographic procedures, with minimal adverse effects and at a low cost"
A clinical trial from 2010, however, found that acetylcysteine is ineffective for the prevention of contrast-induced nephropathy. This trial, involving 2,308 patients, found that acetylcysteine was no better than a placebo; whether acetylcysteine or the placebo was used, the incidence of nephropathy was the same — 13%.
Despite the conflicting research outcomes, the 2012 Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes Guidelines suggest the use of oral acetylcysteine for the prevention of contrast-induced nephropathy in high-risk individuals, given its potential for benefit, low likelihood of adverse effects, and low cost.
Acetylcysteine has been used for cyclophosphamide-induced hemorrhagic cystitis, although mesna is generally preferred due to the ability of acetylcysteine to diminish the effectiveness of cyclophosphamide.
Obstructive lung disease
Acetylcysteine is used in the treatment of obstructive lung disease as an adjuvant treatment.
N-acetylcysteine has been successfully tried as a treatment for a number of psychiatric disorders. A systematic review from 2015, and several earlier medical reviews, indicated that there is favorable evidence for N-acetylcysteine efficacy in the treatment of autism, Alzheimer's disease, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, specific drug addictions (cocaine and cannabis), and a certain form of epilepsy (progressive myoclonic). Evidence to date does not support the efficacy for N-acetylcysteine in treating addictions to gambling, methamphetamine, or nicotine, although pilot controlled data are encouraging. GLT1 is theorized as the active target of NAC's mediation of drug addiction.
Acetylcysteine can be used in Petroff's method i.e. liquefaction and decontamination of sputum, in preparation for recovery of mycobacterium. It also displays significant antiviral activity against the influenza A viruses.
Acetylcysteine has bactericidal properties and breaks down bacterial biofilms of clinically relevant pathogens including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterobacter cloacae, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Klebsiella pneumoniae.
Acetylcysteine is sold as a dietary supplement commonly claiming antioxidant and liver protecting effects.
The most commonly reported adverse effects for IV formulations of acetylcysteine are rash, urticaria, and itchiness. Up to 18% of patients have been reported to experience anaphylaxis reaction, which are defined as rash, hypotension, wheezing, and/or shortness of breath. Lower rates of anaphylactoid reactions have been reported with slower rates of infusion.
Adverse effects for inhalational formulations of acetylcysteine include nausea, vomiting, stomatitis, fever, rhinorrhea, drowsiness, clamminess, chest tightness, and bronchoconstriction. Though infrequent, bronchospasm has been reported to occur unpredictably in some patients.
Antioxidants are widely used to protect cells from damage induced by reactive oxygen species (ROS). The concept that antioxidants can help fight cancer is deeply rooted in the general population, promoted by the food supplement industry. However, clinical trials have reported inconsistent results. High levels of ROS or prolonged stress upregulates p53 and provokes a pro-oxidant response to further increase ROS, which subsequently elicits the p53-dependent apoptotic processes to eliminate damaged cells. Thus, antioxidants can accelerate tumor growth by disrupting the ROS-p53 axis apoptosis, and autophagy, processes. Because somatic mutations in p53 occur late in tumor progression, antioxidants may accelerate the growth of early tumors or precancerous lesions in high-risk populations such as smokers and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who receive NAC to relieve mucus production. It is not clear what dose(s) induced these effects. Additionally, it is important to reiterate that NAC does not cause cancer, it counteracts ROS accumulation caused by p53 and down-regulates p53, which in turn prevents p53-induced apoptosis and promotes autophagy. in all cells; it is a dose dependent response, and the ability to manipulate cellular apoptosis and autophagy has many therapeutic benefits.
Large doses in a mouse model showed that acetylcysteine could potentially cause damage to the heart and lungs. They found that acetylcysteine was metabolized to S-nitroso-N-acetylcysteine (SNOAC), which increased blood pressure in the lungs and right ventricle of the heart (pulmonary artery hypertension) in mice treated with acetylcysteine. The effect was similar to that observed following a 3-week exposure to an oxygen-deprived environment (chronic hypoxia). The authors also found that SNOAC induced a hypoxia-like response in the expression of several important genes both in vitro and in vivo.
The implications of these findings for long-term treatment with acetylcysteine have not yet been investigated. The dose used by Palmer and colleagues was dramatically higher than that used in humans, the equivalent of about 20 grams per day. Nonetheless, positive effects on age-diminished control of respiration (the hypoxic ventilatory response) have been observed previously in human subjects at more moderate doses.
– Glutathione, along with oxidized glutathione (GSSG) and S-nitrosoglutathione (GSNO), have been found to bind to the glutamate recognition site of the NMDA and AMPA receptors (via their γ-glutamyl moieties), and may be endogenous neuromodulators. At millimolar concentrations, they may also modulate the redox state of the NMDA receptor complex. In addition, glutathione has been found to bind to and activate ionotropic receptors that are different from any other excitatory amino acid receptor, and which may constitute glutathione receptors, potentially making it a neurotransmitter. As such, since N-acetylcysteine is a prodrug of glutathione, it may modulate all of the aforementioned receptors as well.
– Glutathione also modulates the NMDA receptor by acting at the redox site.
L-cysteine also serves as a precursor to cystine which in turn serves as a substrate for the cystine-glutamate antiporter on astrocytes hence increasing glutamate release into the extracellular space. This glutamate in turn acts on mGluR2/3 receptors, and at higher doses of acetylcysteine, mGluR5.
Acetylcysteine also possesses some anti-inflammatory effects possibly via inhibiting NF-κB and modulating cytokine synthesis.
Extensively liver metabolized; CYP450 minimal. Urine excretion 22-30% with a half-life of 5.6 hours in adults and 11 hours in neonates.
Acetylcysteine is the N-acetyl derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine, and is a precursor in the formation of the antioxidant glutathione in the body. The thiol (sulfhydryl) group confers antioxidant effects and is able to reduce free radicals.
Acetylcysteine is available in different dosage forms for different indications:
- Solution for inhalation (Assist, Mucomyst, Mucosil) – inhaled for mucolytic therapy or ingested for nephroprotective effect (kidney protection)
- Intravenous injection (Assist,Parvolex, Acetadote) – treatment of paracetamol/acetaminophen overdose
- Oral solution – various indications.
- Effervescent tablets
- Ocular solution - for mucolytic therapy
- Tablets - sometimes in a sustained release formula sold as a nutritional supplement
The IV injection and inhalation preparations are, in general, prescription only, whereas the oral solution and the effervescent tablets are available over the counter in many countries. Acetylcysteine is available as a health supplement in the United States, typically in capsule form.
- It is being studied in conditions, such as autism, where cysteine and related sulfur amino acids may be depleted due to multifactorial dysfunction of methylation pathways involved in methionine catabolism.
- Acetylcysteine in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial appears to reduce the effects of blast induced mild traumatic brain and neurological injury in soldiers. Animal studies have also demonstrated its efficacy in reducing the damage associated with moderate traumatic brain or spinal injury, and also ischemia-induced brain injury. In particular, it has been demonstrated to reduce neuronal losses and to improve cognitive and neurological outcomes associated with these traumatic events.
- It has been suggested that acetylcysteine may help people with Samter's triad by increasing levels of glutathione allowing faster breakdown of salicylates, though there is no evidence that it is of benefit.
- It has been shown to help women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) to reduce insulin problems and possibly improve fertility.
- Small studies have shown acetylcysteine to be of benefit to people with blepharitis. and has been shown to reduce ocular soreness caused by Sjogren's syndrome.
- It has been shown effective in the treatment of Unverricht-Lundborg disease in an open trial in 4 patients. A marked decrease in myoclonus and some normalization of somatosensory evoked potentials with acetylcysteine treatment has been documented.
- The effect of acetylcysteine in combination with glucocorticoids (combination group) for people who have severe alcoholic hepatitis was examined and showed that the combination of acetylcysteine with prednisolone decreased mortality significantly at one month compared to the prednisolone-only group (8% vs 24%, P=0.006). However, the improvement was not as significant at 3 months or 6 months (22% vs 34%, P=0.06) and (27% vs 38%, P=0.07). Factors that were associated with increased 6-month survival included younger age, shorter prothrombin time, lower levels of bilirubin in baseline studies, and decrease in bilirubin on day 14, all (P<0.001). Death due to hepatorenal syndrome occurred less frequently for the combination group at 6 months (9% vs 22%, P=0.02) and infections were also less frequent in the combination group as well (P=0.001). Six-month survival, the primary outcome, was not improved in conclusion.
- Acetylcysteine has been hypothesized to be beneficial in Parkinson's disease. It is currently undergoing clinical trials.
- Addiction to any/every drug of abuse tested so far has been correlated with an enduring reduction in the expression of GLT1 (EAAT2) in the nucleus accumbens and is implicated in the drug-seeking behavior expressed nearly universally across all documented addiction syndromes. This long-term dysregulation of glutamate transmission is associated with an increase in vulnerability to both relapse-events after re-exposure to drug-use triggers as well as an overall increase in the likelihood of developing addiction to other reinforcing drugs. Drugs which help to re-stabilize the glutamate system such as N-acetylcysteine have been proposed for the treatment of addiction to cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol.
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