Changing Approach to Neonatal Acute Liver Failure

A recent review (SA Taylor, PF Whittington. Liver Transplantation 2016; 22: 677-85) provides several important concepts for practitioners who may need to manage neonatal acute liver failure.

The most common etiologies (in parenthesis the approximate percentage of cases in their experience):

  • Gestational alloimmune liver disease (GALD) (60-90%)
  • Viral hepatitis (20-30%)-particularly HSV, followed by HHV-6, and rarely CMV
  • Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) (<10%)
  • Mitochondrial hepatopathy (<5%)
  • Rare causes include galactosemia, hereditary tyrosinemia type 1, and hereditary fructose intolerance. (<1%)  In addition, bile acid synthetic defect 5-beta-reductase deficiency can cause neonatal liver failure.

While INR ≥2.0 was used in the PALF studies as a primary defining feature of liver failure, since an INR of 2.0 can occur in the normal newborn, the authors recommend using an INR≥ 3.0 for neonatal liver failure.

Their Table 1 helps provide some important differences, Distinguishing features:

  • With GALD, ALT values are typically <100 due to underdeveloped hepatic parenchyma and ferritin is typically >800 and <7000.  IUGR is frequent (70-90%) as is hypoglycemia. Hepatosplenomegaly is uncommon.
  • With viral infections and HLH, ALT values are typically high, ferritin often very high, hepatosplenomegaly is common. IUGR is rare.
  • With mitochondrial disorders, ALT typically is between 100-500, ferritin levels are variable, and IUGR occurs in 20-30%.  A distinguishing feature is lactate: pyruvate ratio and ketone body ratios.
  • By thinking carefully about the reasons for liver failure in the neonatal period and not trying to examine for every possible liver disease, the use of these variables can expedite the evaluation and decrease the cost.  Genetic testing is not recommended due to the slow turnaround time, “and many diseases that are prominent causes of cholestatic disease …just do not cause NALF.”

With regard to treatment, the authors advocate use of IVIG if suspicion for GALD.  If workup (lip biopsy and/or MRI) confirms GALD then exchange transfusion and repeat IVIG is recommended.

My take: This reference should be helpful when managing a neonate with severe liver disease.

Related blog posts:

Set from the Musical "Beautiful"

Set from the Musical “Beautiful”


I had a few free minutes so I decided to take a look at a bunch of upcoming lectures from the 2013 NASPGHAN upcoming meeting.  With electronic media, it is easy to take a quick glance.  Here’s the master link to all of the following talks:

Annual Meeting page.

Some of the power point lectures that I’ve seen so far:

  • Is my PPI dangerous for me? Eric Hassall MBChB, University of British Columbia One point in his slides that I had not seen much about was a hypothesis that PPI use may predispose to the development of eosinophilic esophagitis by allowing food proteins to be more intact ( attributed to Merwat, Spechler. Am J Gastro ’09).  He explains that “acid reflux” is a clever marketing term and has a slide with Madmen actors.  If there is “acid,” one must need acid suppression.
  • My child doesn’t go to school Lynne Walker MD, Vanderbilt University.  Lynne shows an interesting fax from a parent that asks if the problem is physical, how will she help? And, if it is psychological, how can this be remedied?  She outlines a lot of pain theory and indicates that parents need to become health coaches, avoid catastrophizing (?spelling), and encourages mental health evaluation.  Use the parents words ‘I’m going to refer xxx for relaxation and stress management.’
  • My child’s H. pylori will not go away – (the resistant bug) Benjamin Gold MD, Children’s Center for Digestive Healthcare. Ben manages to stuff so much information into his talk.  His talk is like one of those clown cars where more and more people keep coming out.  He has slides with worldwide resistance maps, slides with treatment regimens and algorithms, and the reasons for treatment failure. Perhaps I can convince him to give a live preview.
  • Administrative/executive functioning Richard Colletti MD, Fletcher Allen Healthcare. Offers personal and pragmatic advice for career advancement.  His slides indicate that he started his GI fellowship at age 40.  One of his quotes, “80% of success is showing up” (Woody Allen) is definitely true.  It’s pretty much akin to what I learned about success in medical school.  You need the three As: availability, affability, and ability.  My mentor said the first was what people needed most.
  • The changing face of intestinal transplantation
    Simon Horslen MD, Seattle Children’s Hospital.  Lecture notes that number of intestinal transplants have decreased dramatically, particularly in children. In 2012, only about 100 intestinal transplants were performed whereas it had peaked at nearly 200.  Much of the credit is due to intestinal rehabilitation work and adjustments in parenteral nutrition (eg. lipid minimization, line care).  Two most common reasons for intestinal transplantation at this time are gastroschisis and volvulus.
  •  Gluten sensitivity: Fact or fiction Alessio Fasano MD, MassGeneral Hospital for Children. This blog has covered a lot of the same material, but Alessio’s slides are pretty impressive.  Also, I was not aware that Lady Gaga consumes a gluten-free diet
  • Controversies in parenteral nutrition Christopher Duggan MD, Boston Children’s Hospital.  This lecture provides a timely update on nutrient deficiencies due to component shortages and discusses lipid minimization compared with fish oil-based lipid emulsions.
  • Vitamin D and immunity James Heubi MD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  In the beginning of the slides, Jim provides a very user-friendly definition of an expert and a suitable picture.  He indicates that in 2011 there were 3746 vitamin D publications but inexplicably only chooses to review a tiny fraction.

At the time of this posting, I haven’t had a chance to look through these talks: