Profiling circulating microRNAs in patients with cirrhosis and acute-on-chronic liver failure

JHEP Rep. 2021 Jan 19;3(2):100233. doi: 10.1016/j.jhepr.2021.100233. eCollection 2021 Apr.


Background & aims: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) circulate in several body fluids and can be useful biomarkers. The aim of this study was to identify blood-circulating miRNAs associated with cirrhosis progression and acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF).

Methods: Using high-throughput screening of 754 miRNAs, serum samples from 45 patients with compensated cirrhosis, decompensated cirrhosis, or ACLF were compared with those from healthy individuals (n = 15). miRNA levels were correlated with clinical parameters, organ failure, and disease progression and outcome. Dysregulated miRNAs were evaluated in portal and hepatic vein samples (n = 33), liver tissues (n = 17), and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) (n = 16).

Results: miRNA screening analysis revealed that circulating miRNAs are dysregulated in cirrhosis progression, with 51 miRNAs being differentially expressed among all groups of patients. Unsupervised clustering and principal component analysis indicated that the main differences in miRNA expression occurred at decompensation, showing similar levels in patients with decompensated cirrhosis and those with ACLF. Of 43 selected miRNAs examined for differences among groups, 10 were differentially expressed according to disease progression. Moreover, 20 circulating miRNAs were correlated with model for end-stage liver disease and Child-Pugh scores. Notably, 11 dysregulated miRNAs were associated with kidney or liver failure, encephalopathy, bacterial infection, and poor outcomes. The most severely dysregulated miRNAs (i.e. miR-146a-5p, miR-26a-5p, and miR-191-5p) were further evaluated in portal and hepatic vein blood and liver tissue, but showed no differences. However, PBMCs from patients with cirrhosis showed significant downregulation of miR-26 and miR-146a, suggesting a extrahepatic origin of some circulating miRNAs.

Conclusions: This study is a repository of circulating miRNA data following cirrhosis progression and ACLF. Circulating miRNAs were profoundly dysregulated during the progression of chronic liver disease, were associated with failure of several organs and could have prognostic utility.

Lay summary: Circulating miRNAs are small molecules in the blood that can be used to identify or predict a clinical condition. Our study aimed to identify miRNAs for use as biomarkers in patients with cirrhosis or acute-on-chronic liver failure. Several miRNAs were found to be dysregulated during the progression of disease, and some were also related to organ failure and disease-related outcomes.

Keywords: ACLF, acute-on-chronic liver failure; ALT, alanine aminotransferase; AST, aspartate aminotransferase; Biomarkers; CXCL10, C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 10; Chronic liver disease; EF CLIF, European Foundation for the Study of Chronic Liver Failure; FoxO, forkhead box O; INR, International Normalised Ratio; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; Liver decompensation; MAPK, mitogen-activated protein kinase; MELD, model for end-stage liver disease; NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; Non-coding RNAs; PBMCs, peripheral blood mononuclear cells; PCA, principal component analysis; TGF, transforming growth factor; TIPS, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt; qPCR, quantitative PCR.