Cholangitis After Kasai Procedure for Biliary Atresia

K Cheng et al. JPGN 2020; 71: 452-458. Cholangitis in Patients With Biliary Atresia Receiving Hepatoportoenterostomy: A National Database Study

This study, which relied on data from a pediatric database (PHIS) with 48 pediatric centers, identified 1112 subjects with biliary atresia (2004-2013).

Key findings:

  • Median age at time of Kasai (hepatoportoenterostomy) procedure: 63 days
  • Median number of admissions for cholangitis within 2 years was 2 episodes. The presence of portal hypertension (OR 2.24) and black race (OR 1.51) were associated with higher risk of cholangitis
  • When Kasai was performed at >90 days, this lowered the likelihood of cholangitis (OR 0.46)
  • With regards to those with 5 or more bouts of cholangitis, risk factors included Asian ethnicity (OR 2.66), public insurance (OR 1.72), and portal hypertension (OR 2.88)
  • 56% of patients had portal hypertension and 15.6% had esophageal varices
  • Neither steroids nor ursodeoxycholic acid were found to affect patient outcome
  • Limitations: lack of clear definition for cholangitis diagnosis and episodes of cholangitis may not have been captured if patients received care outside the participating centers

My take: Cholangitis is a common problem following hepatoportoenterostomy. Earlier diagnosis of biliary atresia provides the best opportunity for improving long-term outcomes.

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More Data, More Nuance with MMP-7: Best Biliary Atresia Biomarker

As noted by my previous blog (New Way to Diagnose Biliary Atresia), I am enthusiastic about the development of MMP-7 (Serum Matrix Metalloproteinase-7) as a biomarker for biliary atresia.

A new study (Wu J-F , Jeng Y-M, Chen H-L, Ni Y-H, Hsu H-Y, Chang M-H. Quantification of serum matrix metallopeptide 7 levels may assist the diagnosis and outcome prediction for biliary atresia. J Pediatr. 2019;208:30–7) and associated editorial provide additional data and nuance.

Key points:

  • “Wu et … studied 100 cholestatic infants presenting consecutively to their institution over a 10-year period, including 36 eventually diagnosed with biliary atresia. Median serum MMP-7 levels were significantly higher in biliary atresia at the time of diagnosis, with an optimal serum MMP-7 level of >1.43 ng/mL for predicting biliary atresia.  In comparison, similarly high MMP-7 levels were found in only 1 infant who was cholestatic without biliary atresia.”
  • “The authors found that serum MMP-7 levels were significantly lower in the 14 infants ≤30 days old diagnosed with biliary atresia, compared with the 22 infants >30 days old at diagnosis. In some cases, serum MMP-7 levels in younger infants with biliary atresia overlapped with those from infants with other liver diseases, such as neonatal hepatitis.”
  • After Kasai portoenterostomy: “Serum MMP-7 levels were significantly higher 6 months post-Kasai portoenterostomy in infants who later required liver transplant, with a serum MMP-7 level of >10.30 mg/dL optimally predicting transplant 3-4 years after Kasai portoenterostomy … serum MMP-7 levels are still high even in patients who do not need liver transplant.”
  • The authors “highlight 1 complication with using serum MMP-7 levels: values can vary widely among different enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits used.”

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Sagrada Familia -work in progress.  Amazing.


Bad News Bili

A study (BL Schneider et al. J Pediatr 2016; 170: 211-7) from ChiLDReN (Childhood Liver Disease Research Network) shows that infants with biliary atresia whose total bilirubin (TB) does not drop below 2 mg/dL (34.2 microM) at anytime during the first 3 months after hepatoportoenterostomy (HPE) (Kasai) are at high risk for disease progression.

Key findings:

  • 68/137 (50%) had TB <2.0 at some point following HPE.
  • In the cohort with TB ≥ 2.0, the odds ratio for liver transplantation or death was 16.8.  Higher TB was associated with diminished weight gain, coagulopathy, and hypoalbuminemia
  • In the cohort with TB ≥ 2.0, transplant-free survival at 2 year occurred in only 20% compared with 86% in the TB <2.0 group
  • Interestingly, only 6.6% had variceal bleeding among the entire cohort by age 2 years.

The TB was associated with multiple other parameters of worsening liver function, indicating that TB is not the only measure to affect the decision of liver transplantation.

My take: About half of all patients following a Kasai were at high risk for early progressive liver disease.  TB ≥ 2.0 is a useful indicator of high risk.

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Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga

Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga

Helpful Review on Biliary Atresia

Biliary atresia (BA) remains the leading cause of pediatric liver transplantation and a frequent cause of cholestasis in newborns.  A recent review (AG Feldman, CL Mack. JPGN 2015; 61: 167-75) provides a helpful update. The article begins with a review on pathogenesis, though this remains unknown and continues to be an area of speculation.

The section on evaluation includes a suggested diagnostic algorithm for neonatal cholestasis.  In short, for a 2 week old with jaundice , the authors recommend (STEP 1) fractionating the bilirubin.  The infant is considered cholestasis if the direct bilirubin is ≥1 mg/dL (if total bilirubin is <5 mg/dL) or if direct bilirubin ≥20% of total bilirubin (if total bilirubin is >5 mg/dL).

Among cholestatic infants, the authors recommend (STEP 2) next checking ultrasound and alpha-one antitrypsin (A1AT) (level & phenotype).  The text implies that the authors would check a GGTP.  While this is not in their algorithm, many would suggest checking urine reducing substances, coags, serum glucose, and consideration of sepsis evaluation; these tests can identify issues that are more urgent than identifying biliary atresia.

STEP 3: If U/S and A1AT, are not diagnostic, consider urine culture, urine reducing substances, urine succinylacetone, and additional infectious studies.

STEP 4: Proceed with liver biopsy. If findings of biliary atresia (eg. bile plugs, bile duct proliferation, portal fibrosis), proceed with intraoperative cholangiogram.

Other points:

  • “It is rare for an infant with BA to have a GGTP level <200 U/L.” If low GGTP, consider PFIC, inborn error of bile acid metabolism, and panhypopituitarism.
  • Extensive differential diagnosis table given ((Table 1)
  • “Late diagnosis of BA remains a problem in the United States. The average age of HPE [hepatoportoenterostomy] is 61 days and 44% of patients still undergo HPE after 60 days of life.”  The authors indicate a goal for HPE of taking place  at <45 days of life.
  • Successful HPE can occur even with late diagnosis. 10% to 20% of children who undergo HPE after 100 to 120 days of life still have success in restoring bile flow.”
  • Early/successful HPE is helpful in increasing 10-year transplant-free rate.  Early on, 3 months after HPE, those with a total bilirubin <2 mg/dL compared with those with a total bilirubin of >6 mg/dL have a much lower likelihood of liver transplantation by 2 years of age: 84% vs. 16%.
  • Recommends checking a pulse oximetry at routine followup visits following HPE to look for the possibility of hepatopulmonary syndrome.
  • The article reviews complications including ascites, portal hypertension/GI bleeding, cholangitis, malignancy, and hepatopulmonary syndrome/portopulmonary hypertension.
  • Outcomes: With HPE, “up to two-thirds of patients with BA have short-term clearance of jaundice.” Yet, “80% of patients with biliary atresia will require liver transplantation during childhood.”

Also noted:

“Biliary Atresia is Associated with Hypertension” JPGN 2015; 61: 182-86.

“Pathogenesis of biliary atresia: defining biology to understand clinical phenotypes” A Asai, A Miethke, JA Bezerra. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 12: 343-52.  This review provides in-depth review examines more precise phenotyping, influencing factors (eg. cytomegalovirus), and potential mechanisms.

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From Mt Washburn, Yellowstone

From Mt Washburn, Yellowstone

Impact of Kasai Portoenterostomy on Liver Transplantation

Briefly noted: JS Neto, et al. Liver Transpl 2015; 21: 922-7.

This retrospective cohort study of 347 biliary atresia patients who underwent liver transplantation )LT) (1995-2013) divided patients into eraly Kasai failures (K-EF) (27%), late Kasai failures (K-LF) (33%), and no Kasai portenterostomy (No-K) (40%). K-EF was defined by patients who underwent LT before 12 months of age.

Key findings:

  • After adjustment of confounding factors, the K-LF group had an 84% less probability of dying and 55% less chance to undergo retransplantation.
  • Having a K-EF did not have an effect on patient or graft survival compared to No-K.
  • Both the K-LF and K-EF had more post-LT biliary complications.

Bottomline: This retrospective study suggests that if a Kasai portoenterostomy helps postpone LT then this results in improved outcomes; whereas if it is ineffective, it does not impact survival compared to those who did not undergo a Kasai.

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From Cascade Canyon, Grand Tetons

From Cascade Canyon, Grand Tetons

START Study: Steroids Not Effective For Biliary Atresia (After Kasai)

A recent multicenter study has shown that steroids are not helpful after hepatoportoenterostomy for Bilairy Atresia (BA) (Bezerra JA et al. Hepatoportoenterostomy for Bile Drainage in Infants With Biliary Atresia. JAMA. 2014 May 7;311(17):1750).  Thanks to Saul Karpen for the reference.  I want to congratulate all of the authors, but particularly Jorge Bezerra, Saul Karpen, and Rene Romero for collaborating on this important study.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled START trial from the NIH-supported ChiLDren study enrolled 140 patients (257 were screened) from 2005-2011.  High-dose steroids, starting with methylprednisolone 4 mg/kg/day for 2 weeks and then tapered was compared with placebo.  No statistically significant improvement was noted.  Ultimately, the steroid intervention did not affect transplant-free survival which was 58.7% in the steroid group and 59.4% in the placebo group at 24 months of age.  Figure 2 (see below -from @JAMA twitter feed) shows Kaplan-Meier analysis plots with regard to transplant-free survival and bile drainage; the latter was slightly better in steroid group, but not statistically significant. In addition, steroids were associated with an earlier onset of first serious adverse events, 37% in steroid group compared with 19% in the placebo group within 30 days of Kasai.

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With regard to safety, the authors note that both groups were “found to have a high incidence of adverse events, indicating that they were most likely the direct consequences of the severe liver disease typical of biliary atresia. However, steroid therapy was associated with…complications at the sites of surgical anastomoses and intestinal perforation.”

Take-home message: Avoid steroids after Kasai procedure.

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Biliary Atresia More Common in Preterm Infants

During my fellowship, one of the faculty presented an abstract indicating that 4 out of 40 preterm infants with cholestasis had significant underlying liver disease in addition to parenteral nutrition associated cholestasis (PNAC).  One of these patients had biliary atresia.  The obvious point was not to assume that the cholestasis was due to the usual suspects found with premature infants.

A recent study indicates that biliary atresia (BA) in Taiwan is more common in preterm infants than in term infants (J Pediatr 2013; 163: 100-3).  The authors identified 197 cases (166 term infants) of BA between 2004-2010. This retrospective study used a nationwide screening for BA (the national stool card registry center database) along with reports from surgeons of the Taiwan Biliary Atresia Study Group.


  • Annual incidence of BA per 10,000 live births was 1.43 and 2.37 for term and preterm infants respectively.
  • Kasai operation before 60 days occurred in 68.7% of term and 44.4% of preterm infants.  Mean age of Kasai was 52.9 days for term infants and 71.8 for preterm infants.
  • Major congenital anomalies along with BA were more common among preterm (18.5%) than term (4.1%).
  • Mean onset of clay-colored stools among preterm infants was 33.6 days compared with 29.6 for term infants.
  • Stool cards had good sensitivity in detecting BA in both preterm and term infants: 96.3% and 92.8% respectively.
  • Jaundice-free at 3 months following Kasai was 62% of term infants and 37% of preterm infants.
  • 18-month survival with native liver was 72.7% in term infants and 50% in preterm infants.

While the authors point out several studies that have shown prematurity is an independent risk factor associated with BA, nevertheless this idea is counter to conventional wisdom that BA patients are typically well-appearing term infants at the time of diagnosis.  The authors also note that despite delayed diagnosis in preterm infants, this was not correlated with an impact on jaundice-free status 3 months following surgery.  This finding, in particular, should be cautiously interpreted as there were only 27 infants in the preterm group.

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Outcomes of Biliary Atresia

A retrospective study from the Netherlands showed that timely surgery and postoperative antibiotics were associated with better outcomes in Biliary Atresia (BA) (J Pediatr 2012; 160: 638-44).  While these results are not surprising, due to the length of the study period (1987-2008) and the number of patients (n=214), the study offers insight into a number of unresolved issues with regard to BA.

The type of BA in this series:

  • type I      14  (6.5%)
  • type II      27 (12.6%)
  • type III   172 (80.4%)
  • undetermined  1 (0.9%)

Other notable findings:

  • 10% of their patients had splenic malformations; no significant change in outcome was noted in this subgroup.
  • 18% received high-dose corticosteroids –no benefit was identified in this subgroup.  The authors state that previous studies are inconclusive; a large US trial of prednisolone (4 mg/kg/day initially) is pending.
  • 31% received ursodeoxycholic acid –no benefit was identified in this subgroup.
  • Overall survival improved a little during the study period, mostly due to increased availability of liver transplantation. 4-year transplant-free survival was 46% and 4-year overall survival was 73%.   Table II (pg 641) in their study lists six other international studies.  Recent studies in some countries have reported 4-year survivals of 82-91%.
  • Antibiotic usage (most commonly co-trimoxazole) was associated with improved outcomes, presumably due to less frequent bouts of cholangitis.  Yet, in this study the reported incidence of cholangitis was not lower.  The authors do not have an explanation for this finding.

Age at time of Kasai:

  • ≤45 days 19%
  • 46-60 days 37%
  • 61-89 days 36%
  • ≥90 days 8%
  • Median was 59 days.  Authors note that Netherland guidelines call for all infants with jaundice at 3 weeks to have a fractionated bilirubin.

Related blog entries:

Minimizing malnutrition in Biliary Atresia

The heart connection

MicroRNAs and biliary atresia

Additional references:

  • -JPGN 2010; 51: 631.  n=91.  Operation w/in 100 days.  Data suggesting that 60 day cutoff is not valid. (Hong Kong)
  • -J Pediatr Surg 2003; 38: 997-1000. n=735.  90 day cutoff was key with 5-yr & 10-yr survival. (Japan)
  • -JPGN 2010; 51:61.  Canadian experience. n=230.  Center size did not affect outcome.  Overall 39% at 4yrs had survival with native liver.
  • -Liver transplantation 2009; 15: 829, 876.  With combo of Kasai & Tx, >95% exteneded survival (previously 100% fatal).  >80% will need a liver Tx at some point –~50% before age 2.  Increased fibrosis & genes for fibrosis may increase risk for poor outcome.
  • -JPGN 2009; 48: 72.  Review of 13 year experience. n=91.
  • -Pediatrics 2008; 121: e1438.  Single center (Australia?) noted longer delay in dx of BA over 15-year period from 48.5 days (1990-94) to 59.5 (95-99) to 69 days (2000-2004).
  • -JPGN 2008; 46: 238, 299.  More data on age of dx of BA and outcomes from Sweden.
  • -J Pediatr 2006; 149: 393.  Long term outcome of BA -28yrs in England.  7/56 survived long term with native liver; 5-yr native liver survival was 46%, 10-yr was 32%.
  • -J Pediatr 2006; 148: 467, 432..  Outcome of BA in US.  Avg age of referral was 53 days and HPE avg at 61 days.  one-third will survive to age 10 with native liver; overall 90% survival with kasai/hpe & Tx; 50-60% clear jaundice p Kasai.  yellow alert campaign:
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2006; 1411.  BA with choledochal cyst. Nice pics of types of BA. Japanese pathologic classification:  Type 1 with atresia after gallbladder (CBD), type II atresia of common hepatic duct/CBD/GB  c normal intrahepatic ducts, Type III atresia of entire ductal system.
  • -Pediartics 2006; 117: 1147.  Usefulness of stool color cards for screening program.
  • -J Pediatr 2005; 147: 142 & 180-5.  23% c BA survive c native liver for more than 20 yrs; 88% survival for 3 yrs p-OLT; risk factors for poor outcome discussed including poor nutrition & age <5 months.
  • -J Pediatr 2004; 144: 123-5.  severity of fibrosis at time of Kasai inversely correlated with survival
  • -JPGN 2003; 37: 430-33.  Residual fibrosis/cirrhosis noted in 54%/40% respectively of pts with normal labs, median age 13 yrs.
  • -JPGN 2003; 37: 4-21. Review of BA