High-volume plasma exchange in patients with acute liver failure: An open randomised controlled trial

J Hepatol. 2016 Jan;64(1):69-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.08.018. Epub 2015 Aug 29.


Background & aims: Acute liver failure (ALF) often results in cardiovascular instability, renal failure, brain oedema and death either due to irreversible shock, cerebral herniation or development of multiple organ failure. High-volume plasma exchange (HVP), defined as exchange of 8-12 or 15% of ideal body weight with fresh frozen plasma in case series improves systemic, cerebral and splanchnic parameters.

Methods: In this prospective, randomised, controlled, multicentre trial we randomly assigned 182 patients with ALF to receive either standard medical therapy (SMT; 90 patients) or SMT plus HVP for three days (92 patients). The baseline characteristics of the groups were similar. The primary endpoint was liver transplantation-free survival during hospital stay. Secondary-endpoints included survival after liver transplantation with or without HVP with intention-to-treat analysis. A proof-of-principle study evaluating the effect of HVP on the immune cell function was also undertaken.

Results: For the entire patient population, overall hospital survival was 58.7% for patients treated with HVP vs. 47.8% for the control group (hazard ratio (HR), with stratification for liver transplantation: 0.56; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.36-0.86; p=0.0083). HVP prior to transplantation did not improve survival compared with patients who received SMT alone (CI 0.37 to 3.98; p=0.75). The incidence of severe adverse events was similar in the two groups. Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) and sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) scores fell in the treated group compared to control group, over the study period (p<0.001).

Conclusions: Treatment with HVP improves outcome in patients with ALF by increasing liver transplant-free survival. This is attributable to attenuation of innate immune activation and amelioration of multi-organ dysfunction.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00950508.

Keywords: Ammonia; Artificial liver support; Cerebral oedema; Fulminant hepatic failure; Hepatic encephalopathy; Liver transplantation; Multiorgan failure; Plasmapheresis; Sepsis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Failure, Acute / immunology
  • Liver Failure, Acute / mortality
  • Liver Failure, Acute / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Plasma Exchange*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Cytokines

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00950508