Aside from being synthesized in the liver and serving as a transport protein in the blood, prealbumin (PA) doesn’t really have much in common with albumin. More specifically, PA is not derived from albumin and, in fact, the two proteins are structurally distinct from each other!
So where does PA get its name? PA is the original name for transthyretin (TTR), a transport protein that primarily carries thyroxine (T4) and a protein bound to retinol (vitamin A). The name arose because TTR migrated faster than albumin on gel electrophoresis of human serum.1
Because of its much shorter serum half-life compared to that of albumin ( ~2 days vs ~20 days),2 PA is more sensitive to recent changes in protein synthesis and more accurately reflects recent dietary intake (not necessarily overall nutritional status) than albumin. 3
But, just like albumin, PA may represent a negative acute phase reactant, as its synthesis drops during inflammatory states in favor of acute phase reactants such as C-reactive protein. 4 So be cautious about interpreting low PA levels in patients with active infection, inflammation or trauma.
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- Socolow EL, Woeber KA, Purdy RH, et al. Preparation of I-131-labeled human serum prealbumin and its metabolism in normal and sick patients. J. Clin Invest 1965; 44: 1600-1609. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC292644/
- Oppenheimer JH, Surks MI, Bernstein G, and Smith JC. Metabolism of Iodine-131-labeled Thyroxine-Binding Prealbumin in Man. Science 1965; 149: 748-750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14330531
- Ingenbleek Y, Young VR. Significance of prealbumin in protein metabolism. Clin Chem Lab Med 2002; 40: 1281-1291. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12553432
- Shenkin A. Serum prealbumin: is it a marker of nutritional status or of risk of malnutrition? Clin Chem 2006;52:2177 – 2179. http://clinchem.aaccjnls.org/content/52/12/2177
Contributed by Colin Fadzen, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.