Immune mechanisms in acetaminophen-induced acute liver failure

Hepatobiliary Surg Nutr. 2014 Dec;3(6):331-43. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2304-3881.2014.11.01.


An overdose of acetaminophen (N-acetyl-p-aminophenol, APAP), also termed paracetamol, can cause severe liver damage, ultimately leading to acute liver failure (ALF) with the need of liver transplantation. APAP is rapidly taken up from the intestine and metabolized in hepatocytes. A small fraction of the metabolized APAP forms cytotoxic mitochondrial protein adducts, leading to hepatocyte necrosis. The course of disease is not only critically influenced by dose of APAP and the initial hepatocyte damage, but also by the inflammatory response following acetaminophen-induced liver injury (AILI). As revealed by mouse models of AILI and corresponding translational studies in ALF patients, necrotic hepatocytes release danger-associated-molecular patterns (DAMPs), which are recognized by resident hepatic macrophages, Kupffer cell (KC), and neutrophils, leading to the activation of these cells. Activated hepatic macrophages release various proinflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-α or IL-1β, as well as chemokines (e.g., CCL2) thereby further enhancing inflammation and increasing the influx of immune cells, like bone-marrow derived monocytes and neutrophils. Monocytes are mainly recruited via their receptor CCR2 and aggravate inflammation. Infiltrating monocytes, however, can mature into monocyte-derived macrophages (MoMF), which are, in cooperation with neutrophils, also involved in the resolution of inflammation. Besides macrophages and neutrophils, distinct lymphocyte populations, especially γδ T cells, are also linked to the inflammatory response following an APAP overdose. Natural killer (NK), natural killer T (NKT) and T cells possibly further perpetuate inflammation in AILI. Understanding the complex interplay of immune cell subsets in experimental models and defining their functional involvement in disease progression is essential to identify novel therapeutic targets for human disease.

Keywords: Acetaminophen (APAP); acute liver failure (ALF); immune response; liver injury; macrophages.

Publication types

  • Review