Lay Summaries - Volume 77 Issue 4

Lay Summary:  Fatty liver disease can be caused by metabolic factors and/or alcohol consumption. The diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is based on the exclusion of harmful alcohol consumption, while metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD), which has been proposed as a new name for NAFLD, is based on the presence of metabolic comorbidities and allows for alcohol consumption. Herein, we show that up to 29% of patients diagnosed with NAFLD and 25% with MAFLD are at risk of alcohol-related liver damage. We show that ethyl glucuronide (a metabolite of alcohol) in the hair and urine can accurately detect potentially harmful alcohol consumption in these patients – as such, these tests should be integrated into routine diagnostic work-up for patients with fatty liver disease.
Lay Summary:  There have been inconsistent reports about the potential links between fatty liver disease and atrial fibrillation (an irregular and often very fast heart rhythm). Herein, we show that liver stiffness (which is a marker of liver fibrosis), but not fatty liver disease, was associated with a higher prevalence of atrial fibrillation. We hypothesis that atrial fibrillation, rather than fibrosis, may be the cause of increased liver stiffness in participants without overt liver disease.
Lay Summary:  Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a leading cause of chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Suppression of HBV replication is known to lower the risk of HCC recurrence after liver resection (a procedure used to treat and in some cases cure HCC). However, whether the loss of a specific HBV protein (hepatitis B surface antigen or HBsAg) has an impact on recurrence after liver resection remains unknown. Herein, we show that loss of HBsAg is associated with a reduce risk of late recurrence of HCC after liver resection in patients with HBV-related HCC.
Lay Summary:  We have developed a model that reflects the dynamics of hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission in a high-income country with ongoing immigration, which enabled us to forecast the epidemiology of HBV for policy-level decision making. Our analysis suggests that current vaccination, screening, and treatment strategies are inadequate to achieve the WHO goals of eliminating chronic hepatitis B. Even with extensive integrated scale-up in vaccination, screening, and treatment, the morbidity and mortality targets may not be reachable.
Lay Summary:  Chronic hepatitis D is a major health problem. The causative pathogen hepatitis D virus (HDV) can propagate through viral particle-mediated infection and the division of infected cells. Although viral particle-dependent infection can be blocked by recently developed drugs, therapies addressing the cell division route have not been reported. Taking advantage of relevant cell culture models, we demonstrate that the widely used immune modulator interferon can efficiently suppress HDV spread through cell division. This work unveils a new function of interferon and sheds light on potentially curative combination therapies.
Lay Summary:  Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can result in chronic HBV infection, which may ultimately lead to chronic liver disease, primary liver cancer and death; HBV proteins may prevent the immune system from successfully controlling the virus. GSK3389404 is an investigational agent that targets HBV RNA, resulting in reduced viral protein production. This study assessed the safety of GSK3389404 and its ability to reduce the viral proteins in patients with chronic HBV infection. GSK3389404 showed dose-dependent reduction in hepatitis B surface antigen, with an acceptable safety profile. While no clear optimal dose was identified, the findings from this study may help in the development of improved treatment options for patients with chronic HBV infections.
Lay Summary:  Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is usually cleared spontaneously (without treatment) in patients with fully functioning immune systems. In immunosuppressed patients, chronic HEV infection is common and can progress rapidly to cirrhosis and liver failure. Herein, we identified the presence of HEV-specific CD8+ T cells (a specific type of immune cell that can target HEV) in immunosuppressed patients, but we show that these cells do not function properly. This dysfunction appears to play a role in the development of chronic HEV infection in vulnerable patients.
Lay Summary:  Cholestasis (the reduction or cessation of bile flow) causes liver injury. This injury is exacerbated when gut-derived bacterial components interact with receptors (specifically Toll-like receptors or TLRs) on liver-resident immune cells, promoting inflammation. Herein, we show that the anti-inflammatory receptor TREM-2 dampens TLR-mediated signaling and hence protects against cholestasis-induced liver injury. Thus, TREM-2 could be a potential therapeutic target in cholestasis.
Lay Summary:  Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to assess the state of the liver. Previously the functional liver imaging score, which is based on MRI criteria, was developed as a measure of liver function and to predict the risk of liver-related complications or death. By combining this score with a measurement of spleen diameter, also using MRI, we generated an algorithm that could predict the risk of adverse liver-related outcomes in patients with advanced chronic liver disease.
Lay Summary:  The transition from compensated cirrhosis to decompensated cirrhosis is associated with markedly reduced life expectancy. Therefore, preventing decompensation in patients with compensated cirrhosis would be associated with greatly improved patient outcomes. There has been controversy regarding the use of non-selective β-blockers (portal pressure-lowering medications) in patients with cirrhosis and elevated portal blood pressure (portal hypertension). Herein, using a competing-risk meta-analysis to optimize sample size and properly investigate cirrhosis as a multistate disease and outcomes as time-dependent events, we show that carvedilol (a non-selective β-blocker) is associated with a reduced risk of decompensating events and improved survival in patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension.
Lay Summary:  We molecularly characterized a class of histologically aggressive childhood liver cancers and showed that these tumors are clinically aggressive and that their observed histological features are associated with underlying recurrent molecular features. We proposed a diagnostic algorithm to identify these cancers using a combination of histological and molecular features, and our analysis suggested that these cancers may benefit from specialized treatment strategies that may differ from treatment guidelines for other childhood liver cancers.
Lay Summary:  Heme (the precursor to hemoglobin, which plays a key role in oxygen transport around the body) synthesis occurs in the liver and involves several enzymes including hydroxymethylbilane synthase (HMBS). HMBS mutations cause acute intermittent porphyria, a disease caused by the accumulation of toxic porphyrin precursors. Herein, we show that HMBS inactivation is also involved in the development of liver cancers with distinct clinical and molecular characteristics.
Lay Summary:  Surgery is currently the only curative intervention for patients with biliary tract cancer (BTC). However, resection is not possible for most patients who are diagnosed with late-stage disease. With the aim of identifying new early diagnostic opportunities, we analysed circulating microRNAs (small non-coding RNAs whose role in cancer is being increasingly recognised) in whole blood samples. We identified a microRNA signature that could distinguish patients with BTC from healthy participants. These miRNAs significantly improved the diagnostic potential of the routinely measured biomarker, CA 19-9, and were implicated in distinct immune processes in tumour tissues.
Lay Summary:  The role of different immune cell populations in the liver is becoming an area of increasing interest. Herein, we identified a distinct T-cell population that had features similar to those of natural killer (NK) cells – a type of innate immune cell. This distinct population was expanded in the livers of patients with chronic liver disease and could thus have pathogenic relevance.
Lay Summary:  Herein, we report the importance of a locus containing a liver-specific gene coding for a mitochondrial transport protein called SLC25A47. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. They are crucial for metabolism and energy generation. We show that mice with genetic disruption of the Slc25a47 locus cannot maintain mitochondrial homeostasis (balance), leading to wide-ranging problems in the liver that have far-reaching physiological consequences.