Pathological bacterial translocation in cirrhosis: pathophysiology, diagnosis and clinical implications

Liver Int. 2013 Jan;33(1):31-9. doi: 10.1111/liv.12021. Epub 2012 Nov 4.


Bacterial translocation (BT) is defined by the passage of viable indigenous bacteria from the intestinal lumen to mesenteric lymph nodes (MLNs) and other territories, and its diagnostic criteria rely on the isolation of viable bacteria in MLNs. Small intestinal overgrowth, increased intestinal permeability and immunological alterations are the main factors involved in its pathogenesis. BT is obviously difficult to identify in patients with cirrhosis, and alternative methods have been proposed instead. Bacterial DNA detection and species identification in serum or ascitic fluid has been proposed as a reliable marker of BT. Bacterial products, such as endotoxin, or bacterial DNA can translocate to extra-intestinal sites and promote an immunological response similar to that produced by viable bacteria. Therefore, pathological BT plays an important role in the pathogenesis of the complications of cirrhosis, not only in infections, but by exerting a profound inflammatory state and exacerbating the haemodynamic derangement. This may promote in turn the development of hepatorenal syndrome, hepatic encephalopathy and other portal hypertension-related complications. Therapeutic approaches for the prevention of BT in experimental and human cirrhosis are summarized. Finally, new investigations are needed to better understand the pathogenesis and consequences of translocation by viable bacteria (able to grow in culture), or non-viable BT (detection of bacterial fragments with negative culture) and open new therapeutic avenues in patients with cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria* / classification
  • Bacteria* / genetics
  • Bacteria* / growth & development
  • Bacteria* / immunology
  • Bacteria* / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / physiopathology
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy
  • Bacterial Translocation*
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Disease Progression
  • Endotoxins / isolation & purification
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / microbiology
  • Intestine, Small / immunology
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis
  • Liver Cirrhosis / immunology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / microbiology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Endotoxins