The significance of megamitochondria in the alcoholic liver injury of humans was investigated as part of a large Veterans Administration cooperative study of the natural history of alcoholic hepatitis. Two hundred twenty patients were clinically stratified into the following three groups according to disease severity using serum bilirubin and prothrombin time as indicators: Group 1 (mild disease), serum bilirubin levels < 5 mg/dl and prothrombin time prolonged for < 4 s; group 2 (moderate disease), serum bilirubin levels > 5 mg/dl but prothrombin time prolonged for < 4 s; and group 3 (severe disease), serum bilirubin levels > 5 mg/dl and prothrombin time prolonged for > 4 s. Megamitochondria were observed in 20% of the patients (45 of 220). Of these, 43 patients were in groups 1 and 2 of severity and only 1 patient belonged in group 3. The association of megamitochondria with cirrhosis was infrequent (33%, 15 of 45 patients). The differences in severity correlated with the differences in mortality: in patients with megamitochondria, only 1 had died at 6 mo compared with 40 deaths in patients without megamitochondria. By 12 mo, there were two deaths in patients with megamitochondria versus 51 deaths in those patients without. No complications were present in 72% of patients with megamitochondria versus 39% for those without. Infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, pancreatitis, hyperglycemia, azotemia, delirium tremens, seizures, and hepatic encephalopathy were all more common in patients without megamitochondria. The patients with megamitochondria appear to represent a subcategory of alcoholic hepatitis with a milder degree of clinical severity, lower incidence of cirrhosis, fewer complications, and good long-term survival.
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