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Consumption of alcohol causes hyperuricemia by decreasing urate excretion and increasing its production. Our previous studies indicate that ethanol administration increases uric acid production by increasing ATP degradation to uric acid precursors. To test the hypothesis that ethanol-induced increased urate production results from acetate metabolism and enhanced adenosine triphosphate turnover, we gave intravenous sodium acetate, sodium chloride and ethanol (0.1 mmol/kg per min for 1 h) to five normal subjects. Acetate plasma levels increased from 0.04 +/- 0.01 mM (mean +/- SE) to peak values of 0.35 +/- 0.07 mM and to 0.08 +/- 0.01 mM during acetate and ethanol infusions, respectively. Urinary oxypurines increased to 223 +/- 13% and 316 +/- 44% of the base-line values during acetate and ethanol infusions, respectively. Urinary radioactivity from the adenine nucleotide pool labeled with [8-14C] adenine increased to 171 +/- 27% and to 128 +/- 8% of the base-line values after acetate and ethanol infusions. These data indicate that both ethanol and acetate increase purine nucleotide degradation by enhancing the turnover of the adenine nucleotide pool. They support the hypothesis that acetate metabolism contributes to the increased production of urate associated with ethanol intake.