Organ System Network Disruption Is Associated With Poor Prognosis in Patients With Chronic Liver Failure

Front Physiol. 2020 Aug 5;11:983. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00983. eCollection 2020.


Background: A healthy individual has a high degree of functional connectivity between organ systems, which can be represented graphically in a network map. Disruption of this system connectivity is associated with mortality in life-threatening acute illnesses, demonstrated by a network approach. However, this approach has not been applied to chronic multisystem diseases and may be more reliable than conventional individual organ prognostic scoring methods. Cirrhosis is a chronic disease of the liver with multisystem involvement. Development of an efficient model for prediction of mortality in cirrhosis requires a profound understanding of the pathophysiologic processes that lead to poor prognosis. In the present study, we use a network approach to evaluate the differences in organ system connectivity between survivors and non-survivors in a group of well-characterized patients with cirrhosis.

Methods: 201 patients with cirrhosis originally referred to the Clinic five at the University Hospital of Padova, with 13 clinical variables available representing hepatic, metabolic, haematopoietic, immune, neural and renal organ systems were retrospectively enrolled and followed up for 3, 6, and 12 months. Software was designed to compute the correlation network maps of organ system interaction in survivors and non-survivors using analysis indices: A. Bonferroni corrected Pearson's correlation coefficient and B. Mutual Information. Network structure was quantitatively evaluated using the measures of edges, average degree of connectivity and closeness, and qualitatively using clinical significance. Pair-matching was also implemented as a further step after initial general analysis to control for sample size and Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD-Na) score between the groups.

Results: There was a higher number of significant correlations in survivors, as indicated by both the analysis indices of Bonferroni corrected Pearson's correlation coefficient and the Mutual Information analysis. The number of edges, average degree of connectivity and closeness were significantly higher in survivors compared to non-survivors group. Pair-matching for MELD-Na was also associated with increased connectivity in survivors compared to non-survivors over 3 and 6 months follow up.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates the application of a network approach in evaluating functional connectivity of organ systems in liver cirrhosis, demonstrating a significant degree of network disruption in organ systems in non-survivors. Network analysis of organ systems may provide insight in developing novel prognostic models for organ allocation in patients with cirrhosis.

Keywords: cirrhosis; mutual information; network medicine; network physiology; survival.