Drug Safety

, Volume 27, Issue 14, pp 1115–1133 | Cite as

Fab Antibody Fragments

Some Applications in Clinical Toxicology
  • Robert J. FlanaganEmail author
  • Alison L. Jones
Review Article


This review provides current information on the use of antigen-binding fragments (Fab) from cleaved antibodies to treat poisoning with digoxin and other potent, low formula mass poisons, such as colchicine and tricyclic antidepressants. Anti-digoxin Fab fragments have been used successfully for many years in the management of severe poisoning with digoxin, digitoxin, and a range of other structurally related compounds, including cardiotoxins from Nerium and Thevetia sp. (oleander) and Bufo sp. (toads). However, their main use remains treating digoxin poisoning.

Equimolar doses of anti-digoxin Fab fragments completely bind digoxin in vivo. The approximate dose of Fab fragments (mg) is 80 times the digoxin body burden (mg). If neither the dose ingested nor the plasma digoxin/digitoxin concentration is known, in an adult 380mg of anti-digoxin Fab fragments should be given. The dose for elderly patients or those with renal impairment should be similar to that for those with normal renal function. Fab fragments have a plasma half-life of 12–20 hours, but this can be prolonged in patients with renal impairment. Analysis of serum ultrafiltrate using an immunoassay shown not to have matrix bias remains the most accurate approach to measuring free digoxin in the presence of anti-digoxin Fab fragments.

The antibody fragments are given intravenously over 15–30 minutes after dilution to at least 250mL with plasma protein solution, 0.9% (w/v) sodium chloride, or deionised water, except in infants where the volume infused can be reduced. Factors limiting the efficacy of Fab fragments are the dose, the duration of the infusion and any delay in administration. Guidelines for Fab fragment administration in children include (i) dilution to a final Fab concentration of 10 g/L in either 5% (w/v) dextrose or 0.9% (w/v) sodium chloride; (ii) infusion through a 0.22μm filter; (iii) administration of the total dose over a minimum of 30 minutes; and (iv) avoiding coadministration of other drugs and/or electrolyte solutions. Fab fragments are generally well tolerated. Adverse effects attributable to Fab treatment include hypokalaemia and exacerbation of congestive cardiac failure; renal function could be impaired in some patients.

Fab fragment preparations for treating acute colchicine and tricyclic antidepressant poisoning have been developed, but are not available commercially. Colchicine poisoning is rare in Western countries, and pharmacological management together with supportive care is usually effective even in severe tricyclic antidepressant overdosage. Attempts have been made to produce anti-paraquat antibodies capable of enhancing paraquat elimination from the lung, but thus far all such attempts have proved unsuccessful.


Digoxin Paraquat Digitoxin Digoxin Concentration Digoxin Toxicity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Ms Debbie Shaw, Medical Toxicology Unit, for help with table II and Dr M. Eddleston (Colombo) for critical review of the manuscript. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Medical Toxicology Unit, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust, NHS Foundation TrustLondonUK

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