Background and objective: The in vitro contracture test with halothane and caffeine is the gold standard for the diagnosis of susceptibility to malignant hyperthermia (MH). However, the sensitivity of the in vitro contracture test is between 97 and 99% and its specificity is 78–94% with the consequence that false-negative as well as false-positive test results are possible. 4-Chloro-m-cresol is potentially a more specific test drug for the in vitro contracture test than halothane or caffeine. This multicentre study was designed to investigate whether an in vitro contracture test with bolus administration of 4-chloro-m-cresol can improve the accuracy of the diagnosis of susceptibility to MH.
Methods: Three hundred and fifty-two patients from 11 European MH laboratories participated in the study. The patients were first classified as MH susceptible, MH normal or MH equivocal by the in vitro contracture test according to the European MH protocol. Muscle specimens surplus to diagnostic requirements were used in this study (MH susceptible = 103 viable samples; MH equivocal = 51; MH normal = 204). 4-Chloro-m-cresol was added to achieve a concentration of 75 μmol L−1 in the tissue bath. The in vitro effects on contracture development and muscle twitch were observed for 60 min.
Results: After bolus administration of 4-chloro-m-cresol, 75 μmol L−1, 99 of 103 MH-susceptible specimens developed marked muscle contractures. In contrast, only two of 204 MH-normal specimens showed an insignificant contracture development following 4-chloro-m-cresol. From these results, a sensitivity rate of 96.1% and a specificity rate of 99.0% can be calculated for the in vitro contracture test with bolus administration of 4-chloro-m-cresol 75 μmol L−1. Forty-three patients were diagnosed as MH equivocal, but only specimens from 16 patients developed contractures in response to 4-chloro-m-cresol, indicating susceptibility to MH.
Conclusions: The in vitro contracture test with halothane and caffeine is well standardized in the European and North American test protocols. However, this conventional test method is associated with the risk of false test results. Therefore, an improvement in the diagnosis of MH is needed. Regarding the results from this multicentre study, the use of 4-chloro-m-cresol could increase the reliability of in vitro contracture testing.