Subclinical Liver Transplant Rejection

A recent study (S Feng, JC Bucuvalas, et al. Gastroenterol 2018; 155: 1838-51) found a high prevalence of chronic histologic injury even among highly selected long term liver transplant recipients with consistently normal liver biochemical tests. The authors were able to enroll 157 patients. In addition to histology, the authors examined gene expression/microarray transcriptional analysis, and immunohistochemical staining.

Key findings:

  • Three clusters of patients were identified: interface activity (group 1, n=34), periportal/perivenular fibrosis without interface activity (group 2, n=45), and a group with neither (group 3, n=78).
  • In this cohort, 96 (61%) had Ishak Fibrosis of Stage 0-1, 27  (17%) had Stage 2, 33 (21%) had Stage 3, and 1 (1%) had Stage 4-5.
  • The authors identified a module of genes that regulate T-cell-mediated rejection that were associated with interface activity. Thus, interface activity in these patients connotes subclinical rejection, even in patients with consistently normal liver biochemistries.

What to do with this information:

“For patients whose biopsy samples harbor neither inflammation nor fibrosis, immunosuppression dose reduction may be reasonable…For patients, whose biopsy samples show fibrosis in the absence of inflammation, our data do not support any recommendations…for patients whose biopsy samples show interface hepatitis, our data indicate that dose reduction may be unwise.  Although the intuitive response may be to escalate immunosuppression, data evidencing the benefit of this approach are lacking.”

My take: This study shows why a liver biopsy has been important prior to reducing immunosuppression (in liver transplantation and autoimmune hepatitis). My question is whether the authors could identify a gene signature/biomarker (like their gene module) that could be used as an alternative to a liver biopsy.

Related blog post:

View from Golden Gulch Trail, Death Valley

Pregnancy after Liver Transplantation

As there are about 14,000 women of reproductive age in the U.S. who have undergone liver transplantation (LT), data about the outcomes of pregnancy are important for counseling.  A review and meta-analysis (Liver Transpl 2012; 18: 621-29) provides some information; going forward the National Transplantation Pregnancy Registry (NTPR) which was established in 1991 offers the promise of additional insight.

In the current review, Deshpande et al found 8 of 578 studies which met inclusion criteria; in total 450 pregnancies in 306 LT recipients were examined.  While healthy live births were the most common outcome, there were several pertinent risks identified.  The main concerns were development of preeclampsia, rejection/graft loss as well as the potential for birth defects.  While miscarriage rates were similar to the general population (15.6% compared with 17.1%), the following were much higher:

  • preeclampsia 21.9% vs. 3.8% in general population
  • cesarean section delivery 44.6% vs. 31.9% in general population
  • preterm birth 39.4% vs. 12.5% in general population

While rates of rejection and graft loss are not given for the entire cohort, specific study results were discussed.  In one study, rates of acute rejection ranged from 2% to 8% and loss of graft within two years of pregnancy occurred in 6-11%.

Similar to rejection data, the data for birth defects was not uniformly reported.  Specific study results were discussed and included several birth defects: 1 patient with total anomalous pulmonary venous return, 1 with pyloric stenosis, 2 with hypospadias, 1 with tracheoesophageal fistula, 1 with unilateral cystic kidney, and 2 with ventricular septal defects.

Take-home message:

Liver transplant recipients can have successful pregnancies but should be considered high risk.  Active reporting to established registries can give more accurate and up-to-date information.

Related post:

Alive and well? 10 years after liver transplantation