Circulating histones are major mediators of systemic inflammation and cellular injury in patients with acute liver failure

Cell Death Dis. 2016 Sep 29;7(9):e2391. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2016.303.


Acute liver failure (ALF) is a life-threatening systemic disorder. Here we investigated the impact of circulating histones, recently identified inflammatory mediators, on systemic inflammation and liver injury in murine models and patients with ALF. We analyzed histone levels in blood samples from 62 patients with ALF, 60 patients with chronic liver disease, and 30 healthy volunteers. We incubated patients' sera with human L02 hepatocytes and monocytic U937 cells to assess cellular damage and cytokine production. d-galactosamine plus lipopolysaccharide (GalN/LPS), concanavalin A (ConA), and acetaminophen (APAP) were given to C57BL/6N mice to induce liver injury, respectively, and the pathogenic role of circulating histones was studied. Besides, the protective effect of nonanticoagulant heparin, which can bind histones, was evaluated with in vivo and ex vivo investigations. We observed that circulating histones were significantly increased in patients with ALF, and correlated with disease severity and mortality. Significant systemic inflammation was also pronounced in ALF patients, which were associated with histone levels. ALF patients' sera induced significant L02 cell death and stimulated U937 cells to produce cytokines, which were abrogated by nonanticoagulant heparin. Furthermore, circulating histones were all released remarkably in GalN/LPS, ConA, and APAP-treated mice, and associated with high levels of inflammatory cytokines. Heparin reduced systemic inflammation and liver damage in mice, suggesting that it could interfere with histone-associated liver injury. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that circulating histones are critical mediators of systemic inflammation and cellular damage in ALF, which may be potentially translatable for clinical use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Heparin / pharmacology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / pathology*
  • Histones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Inflammation / complications*
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Failure, Acute / blood*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / complications*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / mortality
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Cytokines
  • Histones
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Heparin