Evidence of Chronic Allograft Injury in Liver Biopsies From Long-term Pediatric Recipients of Liver Transplants

Gastroenterology. 2018 Dec;155(6):1838-1851.e7. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2018.08.023. Epub 2018 Aug 23.


Background & aims: A substantial proportion of pediatric liver transplant recipients develop subclinical chronic allograft injury. We studied whether there are distinct patterns of injury based on histopathologic features and identified associated immunologic profiles.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of 157 stable, long-term pediatric recipients of transplanted livers (70 boys; > 6 years old at time of transplantation; mean, 8.9 ± 3.46 years after liver transplantation) who underwent liver biopsy analysis from August 13, 2012, through May 1, 2014. Participants had received livers from a living or deceased donor and had consistently normal results from liver tests. Liver biopsy specimens were scored by a central pathologist; an unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis of histologic features was used to sort biopsy samples into 3 clusters. We conducted transcriptional and cytometric analyses of liver tissue samples and performed a systems biology analysis that incorporated clinical, serologic, histologic, and transcriptional data.

Results: The mean level of alanine aminotransferase in participants was 27.6 ± 14.57 U/L, and the mean level of γ-glutamyl transferase was 17.4 ± 7.93 U/L. Cluster 1 was characterized by interface activity (n = 34), cluster 2 was characterized by periportal or perivenular fibrosis without interface activity (n = 45), and cluster 3 had neither feature (n = 78). We identified a module of genes whose expression correlated with levels of alanine aminotransferase, class II donor-specific antibody, portal inflammation, interface activity, perivenular inflammation, portal and perivenular fibrosis, and cluster assignment. The module was enriched in genes that regulate T-cell-mediated rejection (TCMR) of liver and other transplanted organs. Functional pathway analysis showed overrepresentation of TCMR gene sets for cluster 1 but not clusters 2 or 3.

Conclusion: In an analysis of biopsies from an apparently homogeneous group of stable, long-term pediatric liver transplant recipients with consistently normal liver test results, we found evidence of chronic graft injury (inflammation and/or fibrosis). Biopsy samples with interface activity had a gene expression pattern associated with TCMR.

Keywords: ALT; DSA; Immune Response; Prognostic Factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Allografts / injuries
  • Allografts / pathology*
  • Biopsy
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Graft Rejection / etiology
  • Graft Rejection / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / injuries
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Liver Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult