Will We Still Need Liver Biopsies to Diagnose Biliary Atresia in a Few Years?

A recent study (C Lertudomphonwanit, R Moura, L Fei, Y Zhang, S Gutta, L Yang, KE Bove, P Shivakumar, JA Bezerra. Sci Transl Med. 2017; 9: eaan8462) may change how we diagnose biliary atresia (BA) and provides an insight into potential pathogenesis. Link to studyLarge-scale proteomics identifies MMP-7 as a sentinel of epithelial injury and of biliary atresia

Using large-scale proteomics, the authors screened 1129 proteins in a discovery cohort (n=70) of patients with BA.  They identified several proteins that were increased with BA. Matrix metalloproteinase-7 (MMP-7) was the lead biomarker.  Subsequently, they used two additional validation cohorts.  Human subjects were infants in enrolled in the Prospective Database of Infants with Cholestasis (PROBE) which is part of the NIDDK-funded ChiLDRen (www.childrennetwork.org).

Key findings:

  • 76 proteins were significantly overexpressed or underexpressed in BA compared with children with intrahepatic cholestasis (IHC).
  • MMP-7 was more accurate than gamma glutamyltranspeptidase (GGT).  The combination of MMP-7 and GGT had a AUROC of 0.94 in validation cohorts.
  • The authors further studied the role of MMP-7 by immunostaining and found it primarily was detected in cholangiocytes of intrahepatic bile ducts in infants with BA.  It was also identified in a few hematopoietic cells.
  • MMP-7 expression in the liver did not correlate with fibrosis.
  • MMP-7 serum levels increased in neonatal mice after bile duct epithelial injury induced by intraperitoneal rotavirus administration.
  • Using a mice model, they found that a MMP-7 inhibitor (batimastat) could block the development of BA in a mouse model (in 86% of cases) compared with 0% in control mice.
  • Overall, the authors note that coupled with GGT, MMP-7 serum levels result in “sensitivity and specificity of 97 and 94% respectively, at optimal cutoff, which provided positive and negative predictive values of 85 and 99% respectively, if one considers the prevalence of BA of 25.9% among infants with conjugated hyperbilirubinemia.”

My take: More work is needed.  However, these values suggest that MMP-7 and GGT combined may be more accurate than a liver biopsy in the diagnosis of BA.

Related blog posts:

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon