1. Resting energy expenditure and the metabolic responses to adrenaline (infusion rate: 0.03 μg min−1 kg−1 fat-free mass for 1 h) were investigated in 25 patients with liver cirrhosis. The patient group was heterogeneous and varied with respect to the aetiology of cirrhosis, the clinical condition (i.e. Child A or B), the nutritional status and the degree of hyper-insulinaemia.

2. When compared with 10 healthy control subjects the basal plasma adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations were both increased in cirrhosis and remained elevated during adrenaline infusion (+39% and +31%, respectively; P<0.05). Concomitantly, the peripheral plasma insulin concentration and the molar C-peptide/insulin ratio were increased in liver cirrhosis (+96% and + 30%, respectively; P<0.05). Hyperinsulinaemia was more pronounced in patients with ethanol-induced liver cirrhosis.

3. When expressed per kg fat-free mass, resting energy expenditure was enhanced in liver cirrhosis (+21%; P<0.05) and was more pronounced (i.e. resting energy expenditures of +35% to +49% above estimated values) in patients with ethanol-induced cirrhosis, at advanced stages of the disease and in association with decreased body cell mass.

4. Infusion of adrenaline increased heart rate, O2 consumption and the plasma concentrations of glucose, lactate, free fatty acids, glycerol and 3-hydroxybutyrate, and similar transient increases and subsequent decreases in the respiratory quotient were observed in both groups. However, the lipolytic, ketogenic and thermic responses were reduced in cirrhotic patients. Reduced metabolic responses were more pronounced in hyperinsulinaemic patients.

5. We conclude that resting energy expenditure is variable but may be substantially increased in patients with ethanol-induced cirrhosis. In contrast, the thermic effect of adrenaline is reduced in cirrhotic patients. Variations in resting energy expenditure are strongly associated with variations in body cell mass, which explains 65% of its variability. No parameter of body composition is predictive for thermogenesis.

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