Lay Summaries - Volume 71 Issue 1

Lay Summary: Although effective treatments against hepatitis C virus (HCV) are available, 500,000 people die from liver disease caused by HCV each year and approximately 1.75 million people are newly infected. This could be prevented by a vaccine. To design a vaccine against HCV, more insight into the role of antibodies in the protection against HCV infection is needed. In a cohort of injecting drug users, we found that antibodies interfering with virus cell entry, and recognizing multiple HCV genotypes, conferred long-term protection against chronic HCV infection.
Lay Summary: Hepatitis A virus, a common cause of acute hepatitis globally, is likely to have evolved from a virus that jumped from a rodent species to humans within the last 10–12 thousand years. Here we show that distantly related hepatoviruses, that infect bats and rodents today, express proteases that disrupt innate antiviral responses in human cells. This conserved attribute of hepatoviruses may have contributed to that ancient host species shift.
Lay Summary: In patients chronically infected with hepatitis B virus resistant to multiple drugs including lamivudine, entecavir, and/or adefovir, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) monotherapy showed non-inferior efficacy compared with the combination therapy of TDF plus entecavir. Nonetheless, short-term TDF monotherapy was associated with suboptimal virologic response, and its long-term safety was uncertain. This study displayed that 240 weeks of TDF monotherapy provided a virologic response in most of those patients, but it was associated with poor serological responses and decreasing renal function and bone mineral density.
Lay Summary: Patients with hepatitis C virus infection who are on opioid agonist therapy can achieve high cure rates with current treatments. The use of illicit drugs during treatment can drive drop-outs and reduce cure rates. However, hepatitis C can be cured in most of those using drugs who complete treatment and follow-up.
Lay Summary: This study identifies a key role for syntenin in the regulation of E2 secretion via exosomes. Efficient production of E2-coated exosomes was shown to make hepatitis C virus less sensitive to antibody neutralization. These results may have implications for the development of a hepatitis C virus vaccine.
Lay Summary: We created and analysed a dataset from 12 countries with 66,640 participants with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. We determined that about 97% of those with viraemic infection had 1,300 IU/ml or more of circulating virus at the time of diagnosis. While current diagnostic tests can detect as little as 12 IU/ml of virus, our findings suggest that increasing the level of detection closer to 1,300 IU/ml would maintain good test accuracy and will likely enable development of more affordable portable tests for use in low- and middle-income countries.
Lay Summary: Patients with biliary atresia commonly require liver transplantation before reaching adulthood. Those who reach adulthood with their own liver are still at risk of needing a transplant. This study aimed to identify tests that could help clinicians predict which patients with biliary atresia who reach the age of 16 without a transplant will require one in later life. The study found that the presence of bilirubin ≥21 µmol/L, lower creatinine levels, and a history of portal hypertension or gastro-oesophageal varices at 16 years, as well as cholangitis in adolescence, could predict the future likelihood of needing a liver transplant for young people with biliary atresia.
Lay Summary: In this study, we found that mutations and changes in expression of epigenetic modifiers are common events in human hepatocellular carcinoma, leading to an aggressive gene expression program and poor clinical prognosis. The transcriptional program can be reversed by pharmacological inhibition of Jumonji enzymes. This inhibition blocks hepatocellular carcinoma progression, providing a novel potential therapeutic strategy.
Lay Summary: Hepatocellular carcinomas with histologic evidence of abundant immune cell infiltration are characterized by frequent activation of Epstein-Barr virus in tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and less aggressive clinical behavior. However, a high density of Epstein-Barr virus-positive tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes is associated with inferior prognostic outcomes, possibly as a result of immune escape due to significant CD8 T cell exhaustion.
Lay Summary: Biliary tract cancers include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC) and extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ECC), however there are some differences in their risk factors. Consequently, the distinction between ICC and ECC is important. Over the last few decades, mortality from ICC has tended to rise in several areas of the world, following the increased prevalence of its major risk factors. In contrast, mortality from ECC tended to decrease in most countries, following the increased use of laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
Lay Summary: A positron emission tomography (PET scan), using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (18FDG), can help doctors identify areas of cancer in the body by highlighting “hot spots”. These hotspots may be cancerous (true positive) but may also be non-cancerous, like inflammation (false positive). We show that PET scans are useful to assess how far advanced the cancer is (by assessing spread to lymph glands and to other organs) and also to identify if the cancer has recurred (for example after surgery), thus helping doctors to make treatment decisions. However, a biopsy is still needed for the initial diagnosis of a biliary tract cancer, because of the high chance of a “false positive” with PET scans.
Lay Summary: The mechanical properties of cells and tissues (i.e. whether they are soft or stiff) are thought to be important regulators of cell behavior. Herein, we found that inactivation of the protein CAPZ alters the mechanical properties of cells and liver tissues, leading to YAP hyperactivation. In turn, this profoundly alters liver physiology, causing organ overgrowth, defects in liver cell differentiation and metabolism. These results reveal a previously uncharacterized role for mechanical signals in the maintenance of adult liver homeostasis.
Lay Summary: Congenital hepatic fibrosis (CHF) is a genetic liver disease caused by mutations of the PKHD1 gene. Dysfunction of the protein it encodes, fibrocystin, is closely associated with CHF pathogenesis. Using an in vitro human induced pluripotent stem cell model and patient samples, we showed that the loss of fibrocystin function promotes proliferation of cholangiocytes and the production of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) in an interleukin 8 (IL-8)-dependent manner. These results suggest that IL-8 and CTGF are essential for the pathogenesis of CHF.
Lay Summary: Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 3 (PFIC3) is a severe genetic liver disease that results from impaired transport of lipids to bile, which makes the bile toxic to liver cells. Because therapeutic options are currently limited, this study aims to evaluate gene therapy to correct the underlying genetic defect in a mouse model of this disease. By introducing a functional copy of the missing gene in liver cells of mice, we were able to restore lipid transport to bile and strongly reduce damage to the liver. The proliferation of liver cells was also reduced, which contributes to long-term correction of the phenotype. Further studies are required to evaluate whether this approach can be applied to patients with PFIC3.
Lay Summary: p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases are important inflammatory factors. In the present study, we demonstrated that p38α is upregulated in liver tissues of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases. Genetic deletion of p38α in macrophages led to ameliorated nutritional steatohepatitis in mice through decreased pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion and increased M2 macrophage polarization.