Predicting Outcomes in Childhood Autoimmune Hepatitis

G Porta et al. J Pediatr 2021; 229: 95-101. Autoimmune Hepatitis: Predictors of Native Liver Survival in Children and Adolescents

This retrospective study enrolled a total of 819 patients, 89.6% with AIH-1 and 10.4% with AIH-2

Key findings:

  • The overall survival was 93.0%, with a native liver survival (NLS) of 89.9%; 4.6% underwent liver transplantation
  • The risk of death or liver transplantation during follow-up was 3.2 times greater in patients with AIH-1 ( P = .024). 
  • Normal C3 levels was associated with longer NLS ( P = .017). The chance of death or liver transplantation during follow-up was 3.4 times greater in patients with C3 level below normal
  • Death or liver transplantation during follow-up was 2.8 times greater in patients with associated sclerosing cholangitis ( P = .046).

My take: This large cohort from Brazil shows that a significant portion of children with AIH do NOT do well, especially if they have associated sclerosing cholangitis.

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NASPGHAN Alagille Syndrome Webinar

​A great and short webinar was recently presented from the ​NASPGHAN Foundation​ with three lectures

Webinar​​: Alagille Syndrome (If this link does not work, the On Demand version of the webinar is now available on LearnOnLine, at https://learnonline.naspghan.org/products/on-demand-advances-in-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-alagille-syndrome.  You can also find it by logging into LearnOnline at https://learnonline.naspghan.org/ and entering the Webinars section.)

The first lecture by Dr. Melissa Gilbert was an excellent overview of the genetics of Alagille Syndrome.

Key points:

  • JAG1 mutations account for ~95% of Alagille syndrome mutations and NOTCH2 about 3%
  • Many mutations identified are due to missense mutations which are often variants of unknown clinical significance (VOUS). In these patients, to determine if it is pathogenic, one has to correlate the clinical picture along with specific amino acid change, location of variant, and frequency of variant in normal population. Dr. Gilbert noted that among the ~97% of cases with genetic abnormalities, about 80% have recognized pathogenic mutations and about 17% have VOUS.
  • There is variability of severity of Alagille syndrome in the same family, likely related to genetic modifiers
  • When using genetic panel, if panel uses only single nucleotide variants, this will miss the deletion/duplication variants which account for ~10% of cases

The second lecture by Binita Kamath was a terrific review and compared the differences between Alagille Syndrome with JAG1 mutations and NOTCH2; the latter are much less likely to have cardiac abnormalities and butterfly vertebrae. The liver phenotype/survival is similar.

Key points:

  • Outcomes of Alagille syndrome by 25 years of age including frequent bone fractures and development of portal hypertension.
  • Severe liver disease is common. 75% in a multi-center cohort (CHILDREN) required liver transplantation by age 18 years and 10% died; in contrast, a large GALA cohort of 911 children, 41% survived with their native liver at 18 years.
  • After transplantation, renal sparing strategies are needed due to frequent renal insufficiency; patients with severe cardiac disease may not be candidates for liver transplantation.
  • There is work on an Alagille Syndrome growth curve.
  • Screening for brain vascular malformations/Moyamoya –Dr. Kamath tends to screen after age 8 years of age at baseline (when child does not need sedation for brain imaging) and then every 4-5 years. Also, an MRI/MRA is done prior to major surgery.
  • Hyperlipidemia in Alagille Syndrome is mainly due to lipoprotein X; this is not a risk factor for cardiac health.

The third (& also excellent) lecture by Saul Karpen (who disclosed his potential conflicts of interest) reviewed current treatments and emerging treatments.

Key points:

  • The current medical therapies have not been carefully tested; rifampin for pruritus may relieve cholestasis in about 50% of patients.
  • IBAT inhibitors interrupt enterohepatic circulation. These agents improve pruritus and decrease serum bile acids.
  • Dr. Karpen reminded the audience to follow fat soluble vitamin levels and if treatment is needed, to provide Vitamin D formulations with TPGS.
On the right hadd panel (above), the orange bar represents those with severe pruritus and the effects of PEBD on pruritus.

Related blog posts:

Liver Shorts -February 2021 (part 2)

M Biewenga et al. Liver Transplantation 2020; 26: 1573-1581. Full text: Early Predictors of Short-Term Prognosis in Acute and Acute Severe Autoimmune Hepatitis

Key points:

  •  After the start of immunosuppressive therapy, bilirubin, albumin, and INR normalized in 70%, 77%, and 69%, respectively, in a median of 2.6 months, 3 months, and 4 weeks, respectively, in patients with A-AIH and AS-AIH
  • Deterioration of liver function (bilirubin, INR) after 2 weeks of treatment should lead to rapid evaluation for LT and consideration of second-line medication.

I Ziogas et al. J Pediatr 2021; 228: 177-182. Mortality Determinants in Children with Biliary Atresia Awaiting Liver Transplantation

Key points:

  • The cumulative incidence of waitlist mortality was 5.2%. Median waitlist time was 83 days.
  • In multivariable analysis (n = 2253), increasing bilirubin level ( P < .001), portal vein thrombosis ( P = .03), and ventilator dependence ( P < .001) at listing were associated with a higher risk, whereas weight ≥10 kg at listing ( P = .009) was associated with a lower risk of waitlist mortality. 

References Only:

HM DuBrokc, MJ Krowka. Hepatology 2020; 1455-1460. The Myths and Realities of Portopulmonary Hypertension

Related blog posts:

H Oh et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 2793-2802. Full text: No Difference in Incidence of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Patients With Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Infection Treated With Entecavir vs Tenofovir Related blog post: Is Tenofovir the Best Medication for HBV?

Evanston, IL

Liver Shorts -February 2021 (part 1)

T Mayr et al. JPGN 2021; 72: 115-122. Optimized Trientine-dihydrochloride Therapy in Pediatric Patients With Wilson Disease: Is Weight-based Dosing Justified?

In this retrospective study with 31 children with Wilson’s disease (most of whom had had previous penicillamine), those who received more than 20 mg/kg/day of trientine therapy had increased adverse effects compared to those who received less than 20 mg/kg/day: 63% vs 7%; median followup was 60 months. In addition, there was not increased response to higher doses. The authors note that trientine had lower incidence of adverse effects compared to penicillamine and “appears to be the preferred” as a first-line treatment.

J Teckman et al. (ChiLDReN Network). J Pediatr 2020; 227: 81-86. Longitudinal Outcomes in Young Patients with Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency with Native Liver Reveal that Neonatal Cholestasis is a Poor Predictor of Future Portal Hypertension

In this prospective cohort with 350 participants (all with either PiZZ (90%) or PiSZ (10%) and native livers), 278 (79%) entered the cohort (in 2007 or later) without portal hypertension and 18 developed portal hypertension during follow-up. Portal hypertension was defined by development of ascites, varices or combination of splenomegaly/thrombocytopenia. Thirty participants required liver transplantation; 2 patients died during 1077 person-years of follow-up. Median length of followup was 2.5 years. My take: While most children with Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency do well, monitoring is warranted as some will develop progressive liver disease (even in the absence of neonatal cholestasis).

SA Harrison et al. Gastroenterol 2021: 160: 219-231. Full text PDF: Efficacy and Safety of Aldafermin, an Engineered FGF19 Analog, in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Patients With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis

In this phase 2 double-blind study with 78 patients with NASH, at week 24, the aldafermin group had a significant reduction in absolute liver fat content (reduction of 7.7%) compared with placebo (reduction of 2.7%) (P=.002). Fibrosis improvement (1 stage) with no worsening of NASH was achieved in 38% of patients receiving aldafermin vs 18% of
patients receiving placebo (P = .10). And, NASH resolution with no worsening of fibrosis was observed in 24% of patients given aldafermin vs 9% of patients given placebo (P = .20)

A Chanpong, A Dhawan. JPGN; 2021: 72: 210-215. Long-Term Urinary Copper Excretion on Chelation Therapy in Children with Wilson Disease Key finding:  24-hour UCE decreases to ≤8 μmol/day and <6 μmol/day after 1 and 5 years of treatment, respectively.

Related blog posts:

Progression of Fatty Liver Disease in Children

SA Xanthakos et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 159: 159: 1731-1751. Progression of Fatty Liver Disease in Children Receiving Standard of Care Lifestyle Advice

This prospective study followed the natural history of NAFLD in children with timed liver biopsy reassessment in children (n=122) using the placebo arms of 2 large multicenter clinical trials; patients received standard of care lifestyle advice. The study population had a mean age of 13 years; 71% were Hispanic participants

Key findings:

  • At enrollment, 31% of the children had definite NASH, 34% had borderline zone 1 NASH, 13% had borderline zone 3 NASH, and 21% had fatty liver but not NASH
  • Over a mean period of 1.6 ± 0.4 years, borderline or definite NASH resolved in 29% of the children, whereas 18% of the children with fatty liver or borderline NASH developed definite NASH
  • Fibrosis improved in 34% of the children but worsened in 23%
  • Progression was more likely with increasing ALT, increasing GGT, type 2 diabetes/increasing HgbA1c
  • Overall, one-third had histologic features of progression within 2 years, in association with increasing obesity and serum levels of aminotransferases and loss of glucose homeostasis.
  • The study conclusions are limited by selection bias, potential liver biopsy sampling errors, limited enrollment of non-Hispanic children, and relatively short duration of follow-up

Related blog posts:

Sickle Cell Related Liver Disease

A terrific review of sickle cell disease (SCD) associated liver problems: F Lacaille et al. JPGN 2021; 72: 5-10. The Liver in Sickle Cell Disease

While the most frequent liver-related problem in individuals is cholelithiasis (>25% after age 5 yrs), a host of other problems can develop –this article is a good reference.

Key points:

  • Acute Sickle Cell Hepatic Crisis, Intrahepatic cholestasis, and acute hepatic sequestration
    • ~6% of children and 10% of adults develop severe liver complications of SCD
    • With sequestration, indications include pain with acute drop in hemoglobin (>2 g/dL)
    • Acute hepatic crisis is often signaled by elevated conjugated bilirubin
    • With severe liver disease/liver ischemia, authors advocated for exchange transfusion which “more efficiently decreases HbS percentage, faster restoring the blood flow than simple transfusion.” Consider after excluding biliary complication if INR is >1.4 with increased conjugated bilirubin (>3 mg/L). “Simple transfusion should be discussed in other cases.”
  • Cholangiopathy and autoimmune liver disease
    • Although autoimmune sclerosing cholangitis/autoimmune hepatitis are rare, it may account for 8% of children with SCD referred for hepatic dysfunction
    • Liver biopsy, needed for diagnosis, “is a dangerous procedure in SCD, which cannot be performed without at least a transfusion”
    • “Steroids can induce sickle crisis”
    • Look for ANA, SMA, LKM, and ANCA
  • Iron Overload
    • “It is not usually a significant concern in children…In our patients, the median ferritin level was about 3000 ng/mL, and none had a severe overload on MRI”
  • Infections/Drug toxicity
    • Need to consider hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hepatitis E in particular
    • Inquire about herbal medicines and recreative drugs
  • Liver transplantation
    • Results are often poor.
    • Problems include sickle cell crisis in the transplanted liver, and drug toxicity which can add to the neurological and renal morbidities of SCD
  • Stem cell transplantation
    • Consider for severe complications of SCD including hepatic complications

Related blog posts: 

From NY Times

Prenatal Liver Pollutants: Perfluoroalkyl Substances

It is very difficult to try to understand potential toxic substances in our environments. Some of the reasons for this are that there are always numerous simultaneous exposures and harm from substances can accrue over long periods. Once a substance is identified, it can take a long time to develop convincing evidence and even longer time frames to try to enact policy changes.

Despite these challenges, fortunately researchers continue to try to tease out these dangerous agents. A recent study (N Stratakis et al. Hepatology 2020; 72: 1758-1770. Free Full text: Prenatal Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances Associated With Increased Susceptibility to Liver Injury in Children)

Background/Methods: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widespread and persistent pollutants that have been shown to have hepatotoxic effects in animal models. However, human evidence is scarce. PFAS chemicals have a myriad industrial/household applications which include nonstick cookware and products that confer resistance to stains. According to the editorial (MC Cave, pg 1518-21), some refer to PFAS as “forever chemicals” due to their decades-long half-lives.

The study authors used data from 1105 mothers and their children (median age 8.2 years) from the European Human Early-Life Exposome cohort. Key findings:

  • High prenatal exposure to PFAS resulted in children who were at higher risk of liver injury (odds ratio, 1.56; 95% confidence interval, 1.21–1.92)
  • PFAS exposure is associated with alterations in key amino acids and lipid pathways characterizing liver injury risk.

Related blog posts:

2020 AASLD President: Jorge Bezerra

One of the first articles that I read this year (2021) was “Introducing Jorge A Bezerra, MD, Our 2020 AASLD President” (WF Balistreri. Hepatology 2020; 72: 801-806).

I have a deep admiration and fondness for Jorge. When I first did a gastroenterology rotation during my pediatric residency, he was the first person who handed me an endoscope and showed me how to handle it. During my training as a resident and as a fellow (1991-1997), I had the opportunity to get to know Jorge; for some of that time, he was completing his training as he started his GI fellowship in 1990.

I really enjoyed reading this introduction to learn a lot more about Jorge, because I don’t remember Jorge speaking about himself. Of course, he has been part of some very important advances in pediatric hepatology including the very useful MMP-7 assay, the ‘Jaundice chip’ and the START study.

The article delves into some personal attributes including the description of Jorge being ‘the Pele of pediatric hepatology’ (per Dr. Ronald Sokol). It also describes his family and some characteristics. “He has inspired us with his calm demeanor, decency, humor, positivity, and kindness.”

It is a personal thrill for me to read about one of my heroes in our field.

Related blog posts:

Bone Health in Children with Biliary Atresia

S Ruuska et al. JPGN 2020; 71: 707-712. Impaired Bone Health in Children With Biliary Atresia

This retrospective study from Finland details the bone health of children with biliary atresia (BA). Key findings:

  • Out of 49 patients, 7 (14%) were diagnosed with rickets during infancy. Clearance of jaundice [odds ratio 0.055, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.00266–0.393; P < 0.01] was a protective factor against rickets.
  •  In DXA measurements, median lumbar spine aBMD anthropometrically adjusted z-scores were as follows:
    • in native liver survivors 0.8 (interquartile range [IQR] −1.9 to 1.4) at 5 and −0.3 (IQR −1.3 to 0.8) at 10 years
    • in liver transplanted patients 0.4 (IQR −0.2 to 1.1) at 5 and 0.6 (IQR −0.1 to 1.3) at 10 year.
  • Most BA patients have aBMD within normal range between 5 and 10 years of age irrespective of liver transplantation status.

My take: This study shows that early in life there is frequent bone impairment in children with BA. This generally improves in most children as cholestasis resolves (with or without liver transplantation).

Related blog posts:

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

Treating Pediatric Hepatitis C Infections is Cost-Effective. Plus COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Study

E Greenaway et al. J Pediatr 2020; DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.08.088. Free full text: Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis C in Young Children Reduces Adverse Outcomes and Is Cost-Effective Compared with Deferring Treatment to Adulthood

Methods: A state-transition model of chronic HCV was developed to conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis comparing treatment at age 6 years vs delaying treatment until age 18 years

Key findings:

  • After 20 years, treating 10 000 children early would prevent 330 cases of cirrhosis, 18 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, and 48 liver-related deaths
  • The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of early treatment compared to delayed treatment was approximately $12 690/quality-adjusted life-years gained and considered cost-effective

My take (=conclusion from authors): Delaying treatment until age 18 years results in an increased lifetime risk of late-stage liver complications. Early treatment in children is cost effective. Our work supports clinical and health policies that broaden HCV treatment access to young children.

Related blog posts:


FP Polack et al. NEJM Full text link: Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine

Published data on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine