• We elected to test the hypothesis that the metabolic encephalopathy associated with systemic sepsis may have a pathogenesis that is similar to hepatic encepathology, ie, as the consequence of hepatic dysfunction that induces alterations in synthesis of catecholic and noncatecholic neurotransmitters. Eleven patients with septic encephalopathy were compared with nine patients with hepatic encephalopathy and nine normal controls with respect to blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) amino acid profile, phenylethylamine and its metabolite phenylacetic acid, and blood ammonia. Blood and CSF levels of phenylacetic acid increased markedly in septic and hepatic encephalopathy while CSF phenylethylamine levels were not increased in either condition, presumably due to rapid turnover. The CSF concentrations of all the aromatic amino acids were increased in hepatic encephalopathy, whereas in the patients with sepsis, only phenylalanine levels were increased. Evidence of stimulated neutral amino acid transport into brain was demonstrated in hepatic not septic encephalopathy and appeared to correlate with the CSF glutamine concentration. Blood ammonia levels were increased in hepatic but not in septic encephalopathy. Our data support the hypothesis that metabolites of phenylethylamine contribute to encephalopathy in systemic sepsis and hepatic failure; however, the entitles differ in other respects.
(Arch Intern Med. 1990;150:443-449)