Hepatic Encephalopathy: From Metabolic to Neurodegenerative

Neurochem Res. 2021 Oct;46(10):2612-2625. doi: 10.1007/s11064-021-03372-4. Epub 2021 Jun 15.


Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a neuropsychiatric syndrome of both acute and chronic liver disease. As a metabolic disorder, HE is considered to be reversible and therefore is expected to resolve following the replacement of the diseased liver with a healthy liver. However, persisting neurological complications are observed in up to 47% of transplanted patients. Several retrospective studies have shown that patients with a history of HE, particularly overt-HE, had persistent neurological complications even after liver transplantation (LT). These enduring neurological conditions significantly affect patient's quality of life and continue to add to the economic burden of chronic liver disease on health care systems. This review discusses the journey of the brain through the progression of liver disease, entering the invasive surgical procedure of LT and the conditions associated with the post-transplant period. In particular, it will discuss the vulnerability of the HE brain to peri-operative factors and post-LT conditions which may explain non-resolved neurological impairment following LT. In addition, the review will provide evidence; (i) supporting overt-HE impacts on neurological complications post-LT; (ii) that overt-HE leads to permanent neuronal injury and (iii) the pathophysiological role of ammonia toxicity on astrocyte and neuronal injury/damage. Together, these findings will provide new insights on the underlying mechanisms leading to neurological complications post-LT.

Keywords: Ammonia toxicity; Astrocytes; Hepatic encephalopathy; Liver transplantation; Neurological complications; Neuronal cell loss.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Disease Progression
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / etiology*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / metabolism
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / physiopathology*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / surgery
  • Humans
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Postoperative Cognitive Complications