Cerebral edema remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with acute liver failure (ALF) and has been linked to elevated blood ammonia levels. l-ornithine phenylacetate (OPA) may decrease ammonia by promoting its renal excretion as phenylacetylglutamine (PAGN), decreasing the risk of cerebral edema. We evaluated the safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of OPA in patients with ALF and acute liver injury (ALI), including those with renal failure. Forty-seven patients with ALI/ALF and ammonia ≥60 μM were enrolled. Patients received OPA in a dose escalation scheme from 3.3 g every 24 hours to 10 g every 24 hours; 15 patients received 20 g every 24 hours throughout the infusion for up to 120 hours. Plasma phenylacetate (PA) concentrations were uniformly below target (<75 μg/mL) in those receiving 3.3 g every 24 hours (median [interquartile range] 5.0 [5.0] μg/mL), and increased to target levels in all but one who received 20 g every 24 hours (150  μg/mL). Plasma [PAGN] increased, and conversion of PA to PAGN became saturated, with increasing OPA dose. Urinary PAGN clearance and creatinine clearance were linearly related (r = 0.831, P < 0.0001). Mean ammonia concentrations based on the area under the curve decreased to a greater extent in patients who received 20 g of OPA every 24 hours compared with those who received the maximal dose of 3.3 or 6.7 g every 24 hours (P = 0.046 and 0.022, respectively). Of the reported serious adverse events (AEs), which included 11 deaths, none was attributable to study medication. The only nonserious AEs possibly related to study drug were headache and nausea/vomiting. Conclusion: OPA was well-tolerated in patients with ALI/ALF, and no safety signals were identified. Target [PA] was achieved at infusion rates of 20 g every 24 hours, leading to ammonia excretion in urine as PAGN in proportion to renal function. Randomized, controlled studies of high-dose OPA are needed to determine its use as an ammonia-scavenging agent in patients with ALF. (Hepatology 2018;67:1003–1013).
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