Latest Papers

Prognosis and Biomarkers in Acute-on-Chronic Liver Failure

Rajeshwar P Mookerjee

Semin Liver Dis. 2016;36:127


As formal definitions of acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) have now been established, and given an increased recognition of the dynamic nature of this condition, there is a growing clinical need to assess prognosis and response to interventions. Conventional scoring systems such as Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) fail to capture the two key prognostic elements in ACLF-namely, extrahepatic organ failure and measures of systemic inflammation-and as such are limited in their prognostic accuracy. Even the best available scoring systems such as the recently described CLIF (Chronic Liver Failure) Consortium ACLF (CLIF-C ACLF) score, are at best 75% accurate and need to be applicable to all etiologies of liver disease. Thus, in the absence of "gold standard" markers of prognosis that render one scoring system superior to another, there is a need to explore other markers of pathophysiology that may better define outcome. This review addresses the evidence for markers of oxidative stress, including those reflecting the inflammasome; elements of cell death such as cytokeratins M30 and M65; and indicators of immune dysfunction, innate immune failure and gut dysbiosis. Finally, evidence for relevance of markers of organ dysfunction, including hemodynamic response, are explored along with associated mediators such as copeptin, dimethylarginines, and renin. It is anticipated that further critique and validation of emerging and relevant biomarkers will facilitate a composite score which, either alone or in combination with existing scoring systems such as CLIF-C, will enable improved prognostication and targeting of therapy in ACLF.

Evaluating the Sensitivity and Specificity of Promising Circulating Biomarkers to Diagnose Liver Injury in Humans

Heather P Llewellyn, et al.

Toxicol Sci . 2021;181:23


Early diagnosis of drug-induced liver injury (DILI) continues to be a major hurdle during drug development and postmarketing. The objective of this study was to evaluate the diagnostic performance of promising biomarkers of liver injury-glutamate dehydrogenase (GLDH), cytokeratin-18 (K18), caspase-cleaved K18 (ccK18), osteopontin (OPN), macrophage colony-stimulating factor (MCSF), MCSF receptor (MCSFR), and microRNA-122 (miR-122) in comparison to the traditional biomarker alanine aminotransferase (ALT). Biomarkers were evaluated individually and as a multivariate model in a cohort of acetaminophen overdose (n = 175) subjects and were further tested in cohorts of healthy adults (n = 135), patients with liver damage from various causes (n = 104), and patients with damage to the muscle (n = 74), kidney (n = 40), gastrointestinal tract (n = 37), and pancreas (n = 34). In the acetaminophen cohort, a multivariate model with GLDH, K18, and miR-122 was able to detect DILI more accurately than individual biomarkers alone. Furthermore, the three-biomarker model could accurately predict patients with liver injury compared with healthy volunteers or patients with damage to muscle, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, and kidney. Expression of K18, GLDH, and miR-122 was evaluated using a database of transcriptomic profiles across multiple tissues/organs in humans and rats. K18 mRNA (Krt18) and MiR-122 were highly expressed in liver whereas GLDH mRNA (Glud1) was widely expressed. We performed a comprehensive, comparative performance assessment of 7 promising biomarkers and demonstrated that a 3-biomarker multivariate model can accurately detect liver injury.

In Severe Alcoholic Hepatitis, Serum Keratin-18 Fragments Are Diagnostic, Prognostic, and Theragnostic Biomarkers

Stephen R Atkinson, et al.

Am J Gastroenterol 2020 115:1857


Introduction: Up to 40% of patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis (AH) die within 6 months of presentation, making prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment essential. We determined the associations between serum keratin-18 (K18) and histological features, prognosis, and differential response to prednisolone in patients with severe AH.

Methods: Total (K18-M65) and caspase-cleaved K18 (K18-M30) were quantified in pretreatment sera from 824 patients enrolled in the Steroids or Pentoxifylline for Alcoholic Hepatitis trial (87 with suitable histological samples) and disease controls.

Results: K18 fragments were markedly elevated in severe AH and strongly predicted steatohepatitis (alcoholic steatohepatitis) on biopsy (area under receiver operating characteristics: 0.787 and 0.807). Application of published thresholds to predict alcoholic steatohepatitis would have rendered biopsy unnecessary in 84% of all AH cases. K18-M30 and M65 were associated with 90-day mortality, independent of age and Model for End-stage Liver Disease score in untreated patients. The association for K18-M65 was independent of both age and Model for End-stage Liver Disease in prednisolone-treated patients. Modelling of the effect of prednisolone on 90-day mortality as a function of pretreatment serum K18 levels indicated benefit in those with high serum levels of K18-M30. At low pretreatment serum K18 levels, prednisolone was potentially harmful. A threshold of K18-M30 5 kIU/L predicted therapeutic benefit from prednisolone above this level (odds ratio: 0.433, 95% confidence interval: 0.19-0.95, P = 0.0398), but not below (odds ratio: 1.271, 95% confidence interval: 0.88-1.84, P = 0.199). Restricting prednisolone usage to the former group would have reduced exposure by 87%.

Discussion: In a large cohort of patients with severe AH, serum K18 strongly correlated with histological severity, independently associated with 90-day mortality, and predicted response to prednisolone therapy. Quantification of serum K18 levels could assist in clinical decision-making.

Keratin-18: Diagnostic, Prognostic, and Theragnostic for Alcohol-Associated Hepatitis

McClain CJ, et al.

Am J Gastroenterol. 2021 116:77


It is still sometimes difficult to differentiate alcohol-associated hepatitis (AH) from other liver problems. In this edition of AJG, Atkinson et al. showed that keratin-18 (intermediate filament protein) is a promising biomarker for predicting histological severity of AH, defining the type of hepatocyte death (necrosis vs apoptosis), predicting 90-day mortality, and predicting the response to corticosteroid therapy in severe AH. The authors conclude that K18 is diagnostic, prognostic, and may be a theragnostic marker for prednisolone therapy and note that "serum K18 estimation should be adopted into routine clinical practice." We agree.

Accuracy of cytokeratin 18 (M30 and M65) in detecting non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and fibrosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Jenny Lee, et al.


Introduction: Association between elevated cytokeratin 18 (CK-18) levels and hepatocyte death has made circulating CK-18 a candidate biomarker to differentiate non-alcoholic fatty liver from non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Yet studies produced variable diagnostic performance. We aimed to provide summary estimates with increased precision for the accuracy of CK-18 (M30, M65) in detecting NASH and fibrosis among non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) adults.

Methods: We searched five databases to retrieve studies evaluating CK-18 against a liver biopsy in NAFLD adults. Reference screening, data extraction and quality assessment (QUADAS-2) were independently conducted by two authors. Meta-analyses were performed for five groups based on the CK-18 antigens and target conditions, using one of two methods: linear mixed-effects multiple thresholds model or bivariate logit-normal random-effects model.

Results: We included 41 studies, with data on 5,815 participants. A wide range of disease prevalence was observed. No study reported a pre-defined cut-off. Thirty of 41 studies provided sufficient data for inclusion in any of the meta-analyses. Summary AUC [95% CI] were: 0.75 [0.69-0.82] (M30) and 0.82 [0.69-0.91] (M65) for NASH; 0.73 [0.57-0.85] (M30) for fibrotic NASH; 0.68 (M30) for significant (F2-4) fibrosis; and 0.75 (M30) for advanced (F3-4) fibrosis. Thirteen studies used CK-18 as a component of a multimarker model.

Conclusions: For M30 we found lower diagnostic accuracy to detect NASH compared to previous meta-analyses, indicating a limited ability to act as a stand-alone test, with better performance for M65. Additional external validation studies are needed to obtain credible estimates of the diagnostic accuracy of multimarker models.

Drug-induced liver injury (DILI): current status and future directions for drug development and the post-market setting

Corporate Author: Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS), World Health Organization

Publisher: WHO

Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) is a growing challenge because of the ever increasing number of drugs used in medical care. DILI is rare but can be serious and is largely unpredictable. It is an important cause of mortality and liver transplantation, and a leading cause of attrition in drug development. Progress is under way in identifying genetic risk factors, exploring new mechanistic concepts of the complex underlying interactions, and developing new biomarkers that can predict or diagnose DILI. The pharmaceutical industry has a key role in advancing these initiatives, and prospective DILI registries must adopt standard procedures for biological sample collection and storing. There is a strong need for standard guidelines to support theseefforts.The consensus report of the CIOMS DILI Working Group aims to provide acritical framework and essential set of tools to detect, diagnose and manage DILI during drug development and in the post-marketing setting. The report is intended for clinical and basic pharmaceutical industry investigators who capture, analyze and communicate liver safety data in drug development. It is also intended for regulatory scientists and expert consultants who comprehensively evaluate new products and emerging biomarkers for their association with DILI risk, and for health care professionals who monitor and manage patients treated with potentially hepatotoxic drugs in clinical practice.

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Novel Liquid Biomarker Panels for A Very Early Response Capturing of NSCLC Therapies in Advanced Stages

Florian Janke, et al.

Cancers 2020; 12:954


Computed tomography (CT) scans are the gold standard to measure treatment success of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) therapies. Here, we investigated the very early tumor response of patients receiving chemotherapy or targeted therapies using a panel of already established and explorative liquid biomarkers. Blood samples from 50 patients were taken at baseline and at three early time points after therapy initiation. DNA mutations, a panel of 17 microRNAs, glycodelin, glutathione disulfide, glutathione, soluble caspase-cleaved cytokeratin 18 (M30 antigen), and soluble cytokeratin 18 (M65 antigen) were measured in serum and plasma samples. Baseline and first follow-up CT scans were evaluated and correlated with biomarker data. The detection rate of the individual biomarkers was between 56% and 100%. While only keratin 18 correlated with the tumor load at baseline, we found several individual markers correlating with the tumor response to treatment for each of the three time points of blood draws. A combination of the five best markers at each time point resulted in highly significant marker panels indicating therapeutic response (R2 = 0.78, R2 = 0.71, and R2 = 0.71). Our study demonstrates that an early measurement of biomarkers immediately after therapy start can assess tumor response to treatment and might support an adaptation of treatment to improve patients' outcome.

Modular micro-physiological human tumor/tissue models based on decellularized tissue for improved preclinical testing 

Johanna Kühnemundt, et al.

ALTEX 2020;38:289


High attrition rates associated with drug testing in 2D cell culture and animal models stress the need for improved modeling of human tumor tissues. In previous studies, our 3D models on a decellularized tissue matrix have shown better predictivity and higher chemoresistance. A single porcine intestine yields material for 150 3D models of breast, lung, colorectal cancer (CRC) or leukemia. The uniquely preserved structure of the basement membrane enables physiological anchorage of endothelial cells and epithelial-derived carcinoma cells. The matrix provides different niches for cell growth: on top as monolayer, in crypts as aggregates, and within deeper layers. Dynamic culture in bioreactors enhances cell growth. Comparing gene expression between 2D and 3D cultures, we observed changes related to proliferation, apoptosis and stemness. For drug target predictions, we utilize tumor-specific sequencing data in our in silico model, finding an additive effect of metformin and gefitinib treatment for lung cancer in silico, validated in vitro. To analyze mode-of-action, immune therapies such as trispecific T-cell engagers in leukemia or toxicity on non-cancer cells, the model can be modularly enriched with human endothelial cells (hECs), immune cells and fibroblasts. Upon addition of hECs, transmigration of immune cells through the endothelial barrier can be investigated. In an allogenic CRC model, we observe a lower basic apoptosis rate after applying PBMCs in 3D compared to 2D, which offers new options to mirror antigen-specific immunotherapies in vitro. In conclusion, we present modular human 3D tumor models with tissue-like features for preclinical testing to reduce animal experiments.

ROR1-CAR T cells are effective against lung and breast cancer in advanced microphysiologic 3D tumor models

Lars Wallstabe, et al.

JCI Insight 2019;4:e126345


Solid tumors impose immunologic and physical barriers to the efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy that are not reflected in conventional preclinical testing against singularized tumor cells in 2-dimensional culture. Here, we established microphysiologic three-dimensional (3D) lung and breast cancer models that resemble architectural and phenotypical features of primary tumors and evaluated the antitumor function of receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1-specific (ROR1-specific) CAR T cells. 3D tumors were established from A549 (non-small cell lung cancer) and MDA-MB-231 (triple-negative breast cancer) cell lines on a biological scaffold with intact basement membrane (BM) under static and dynamic culture conditions, which resulted in progressively increasing cell mass and invasive growth phenotype (dynamic > static; MDA-MB-231 > A549). Treatment with ROR1-CAR T cells conferred potent antitumor effects. In dynamic culture, CAR T cells actively entered arterial medium flow and adhered to and infiltrated the tumor mass. ROR1-CAR T cells penetrated deep into tumor tissue and eliminated multiple layers of tumor cells located above and below the BM. The microphysiologic 3D tumor models developed in this study are standardized, scalable test systems that can be used either in conjunction with or in lieu of animal testing to interrogate the antitumor function of CAR T cells and to obtain proof of concept for their safety and efficacy before clinical application.

A prospective study on serum Cytokeratin (CK)-18 and CK18 fragments as biomarkers of acute hepato-intestinal GVHD.

Sauer S, Hüsing J, Hajda J, Neumann F, Radujkovic A, Ho AD, Dreger P, Luft T.

PLoS One . 2020 ;15:e0238717

Leukemia. 2018 Jun 27. [Epub ahead of print]


Apoptotic intestinal crypt cells are pathognomonic of acute intestinal graft versus host disease (GVHD). Serum levels of the apoptotic degradation product cytokeratin-18 fragments (CK18F) were associated with acute hepato-intestinal GVHD. Here we present a prospective clinical observational trial (NCT00935324) investigating serum levels of total CK18 (tCK18) and apoptotic CK18F to predict imminent acute hepato-intestinal GVHD and response to treatment. Total (t)CK18 and CK18F kinetics were measured before transplantation and in weekly intervals thereafter. In total 109 patients were enrolled. Acute hepato-intestinal GVHD grade I-IV was suspected in 36 patients (33%) at a median of 56 days post-transplant, 12 of these patients developed steroid-refractory GVHD. Both tCK18 and apoptotic CK18F increased at GVHD onset, and distinguished patients with suspected acute hepato-intestinal GVHD who were negative in intestinal histology. In patients with clinical acute hepato-intestinal GVHD, tCK18 significantly raised already 7-14 days before symptom onset. In receiver operator characteristics, areas under the curve at GVHD onset were 0.927 (p < 0.001) for tCK18 and 0.875 (p < 0.001) for apoptotic CK18F for patients with proven hepato-intestinal acute GVHD. This prospective study validates CK18F and highlights tCK18 as specific biomarkers suitable for improving prediction and diagnosis of suspected imminent and clinically manifest acute hepato-intestinal GVHD.

Risk stratification after paracetamol overdose using mechanistic biomarkers: results from two prospective cohort studies.

Dear JW, Clarke JI, Francis B, Allen L, Wraight J, Shen J, Dargan PI, Wood D, Cooper J, Thomas SHL, Jorgensen AL, Pirmohamed M, Park BK, Antoine DJ.

Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Feb;3(2):104-113


Paracetamol overdose is common but patient stratification is suboptimal. We investigated the usefulness of new biomarkers that have either enhanced liver specificity (microRNA-122 [miR-122]) or provide mechanistic insights (keratin-18 [K18], high mobility group box-1 [HMGB1], and glutamate dehydrogenase [GLDH]). The use of these biomarkers could help stratify patients for their risk of liver injury at hospital presentation.


Using data from two prospective cohort studies, we assessed the potential for biomarkers to stratify patients who overdose with paracetamol. We completed two independent prospective studies: a derivation study (MAPP) in eight UK hospitals and a validation study (BIOPAR) in ten UK hospitals. Patients in both cohorts were adults (≥18 years in England, ≥16 years in Scotland), were diagnosed with paracetamol overdose, and gave written informed consent. Patients who needed intravenous acetylcysteine treatment for paracetamol overdose had circulating biomarkers measured at hospital presentation. The primary endpoint was acute liver injury indicating need for continued acetylcysteine treatment beyond the standard course (alanine aminotransferase [ALT] activity >100 U/L). Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves, category-free net reclassification index (cfNRI), and integrated discrimination index (IDI) were applied to assess endpoint prediction.


Between June 2, 2010, and May 29, 2014, 1187 patients who required acetylcysteine treatment for paracetamol overdose were recruited (985 in the MAPP cohort; 202 in the BIOPAR cohort).
In the derivation and validation cohorts, acute liver injury was predicted at hospital presentation by miR-122 (derivation cohort ROC-area under the curve [AUC] 0·97 [95% CI 0·95-0·98]), HMGB1 (0·95 [0·93-0·98]),
and full-length K18 (0·95 [0·92-0·97]). Results were similar in the validation cohort (miR-122 AUC 0·97 [95% CI 0·95-0·99], HMGB1 0·98 [0·96-0·99], and full-length K18 0·93 [0·86-0·99]).
A combined model of miR-122, HMGB1, and K18 predicted acute liver injury better than ALT alone (cfNRI 1·95 [95% CI 1·87-2·03], p<0·0001 in the MAPP cohort; 1·54 [1·08-2·00], p<0·0001 in the BIOPAR cohort).


Personalised treatment pathways could be developed by use of miR-122, HMGB1, and full-length K18 at hospital presentation for patient stratification. This prospective study supports their use for hepatic safety assessment of new medicines.

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