Metabolic and mitochondrial treatments for severe paracetamol poisoning: a systematic review

Michael E. Mullins, Lauren H. Yeager, William E. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Paracetamol (acetaminophen) remains a leading cause of poisoning in Europe, North America, and Australia. For over four decades, acetylcysteine has been the antidote of choice. However, despite the use of acetylcysteine, some patients who ingest very large doses of paracetamol or who reach hospital late in the course of their poisoning, develop acute liver failure. Some will develop metabolic acidosis indicating mitochondrial toxicity. Objective: We review the experimental and clinical data reported with the use of cimetidine, fomepizole, and calmangafodipir in the treatment of paracetamol toxicity to determine if these treatments alone or in combination with acetylcysteine might be of benefit. Methods: We searched Ovid Medline 1946–2020, Embase 1947–2020, Scopus 2004–2020, Cochrane Databases of Systematic Reviews (CDSR), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), and 1997–2020 for records including the concepts of paracetamol poisoning and cimetidine, fomepizole, calmangafodipir, and acetylcysteine. We included basic science studies in animals and all available study types in humans. We reviewed the reference lists of included articles to search for references missed in the original search. We registered the protocol in PROSPERO. Results: We completed all search strategies on 20 August 2019, 27 January 2020, and 15 June 2020. These produced 6,826 citations. We identified and deleted 2,843 duplicate resulting in a total of 3,856 unique citations. After applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, 89 studies remained. The largest numbers of studies described the past use of cimetidine, and the more recent use of fomepizole. Cimetidine: There is good animal evidence that cimetidine blocks CYP 2E1 with the potential to inhibit the toxic metabolism of paracetamol. Early case reports were inconclusive regarding the benefit to humans in paracetamol poisoning. Two comparative trials found no benefit of cimetidine in paracetamol poisoning, but few patients had severe poisoning. Fomepizole: There is good animal evidence that fomepizole blocks CYP 2E1 with the potential to inhibit the toxic metabolism of paracetamol. There are no comparative trials of fomepizole for acute paracetamol poisoning. Case reports are inconclusive due to multiple other interventions including the use of acetylcysteine in all cases. The benefit of fomepizole as adjunct treatment has not been demonstrated. Calmangafodipir: Calmangafodipir, a drug mimicking superoxide dismutase, has emerged as a potential treatment for severe paracetamol toxicity because the formation of superoxide free radicals appears to explain part of the mitochondrial toxicity of extremely large paracetamol overdoses. Calmangafodipir has reached Phase I/II trial of safety in humans with acute paracetamol overdose. Planning for a Phase III study of efficacy is currently underway. Conclusions: The vast majority of patients with acute paracetamol overdose enjoy excellent outcomes with acetylcysteine alone. Although cimetidine and fomepizole inhibit CYP 2E1 in animals, there is insufficient evidence to recommend their use either as a primary treatment or adjunct therapy in paracetamol poisoning. Calmangafodipir remains investigational.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1284-1296
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Toxicology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2020


  • CYP 2E1
  • Paracetamol
  • calmangafodipir
  • cimetidine
  • fomepizole
  • mitochondria


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