Clinical and genetic characterization of pediatric patients with progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 3 (PFIC3): identification of 14 novel ABCB4 variants and review of the literatures

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2022 Dec 22;17(1):445. doi: 10.1186/s13023-022-02597-y.


Background: Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 3 (PFIC3) is an autosomal recessive disease caused by pathogenic variants of the gene ABCB4. This study aimed to investigate the ABCB4 genotypic and the clinical phenotypic features of PFIC3 patients.

Methods: The clinical and molecular genetic data of 13 new pediatric patients with PFIC3 as well as 82 reported ones in the PubMed and CNKI databases were collected and analyzed.

Results: The 13 new PFIC3 patients included six females and seven males, and the main presentations were hepatomegaly, splenomegaly, jaundice, and pruritus, as well as increased levels of gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT). Fourteen new ABCB4 variants were detected, including eight diagnosed to be likely-pathogenic and six, pathogenic. Among all the 95 PFIC3 cases, hepatomegaly was observed in 85.3% (81/95), pruritus in 67.4% (64/95), splenomegaly in 52.6% (50/95), jaundice in 48.4% (46/95), portal hypertension in 34.7% (33/95) and GGT elevation in 100% (88/88) of the patients. Positive responses at varied degrees to oral ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) treatment were observed in 66.1% (39/59) of the patients, among whom 38.5% (15/39) fully recovered in terms of the laboratory changes. Although the condition remained stable in 53 patients (58.9%, 53/90), the clinical outcomes were not promising in the rest 37 cases (41.1%, 37/90), including 7 died, 27 having undergone while another 3 waiting for liver transplantation. A total of 96 ABCB4 variants were detected in the 95 patients. PFIC3 patients with biallelic null variants exhibited earlier onset ages [10.5 (2, 18) vs. 19 (8, 60) months, p = 0.007], lower UDCA response rate [18.2% (2/11) vs. 77.1% (37/48), p = 0.001], and more unpromising clinical outcomes [80% (12/15) vs. 33.3% (25/75), p = 0.001], compared with those with non-biallelic null variants.

Conclusions: PFIC3 presented with hepatomegaly, pruritus, splenomegaly and jaundice with increased serum GGT level as a biochemistry hallmark. Although varying degrees of improvement in response to UDCA therapy were observed, 41.1% of PFIC3 patients exhibited unfavorable prognosis. ABCB4 genotypes of biallelic null variants were associated with severer PFIC3 phenotypes. Moreover, the 14 novel variants in this study expanded the ABCB4 mutation spectrum, and provided novel molecular biomarkers for diagnosis of PFIC3 patients.

Keywords: ABCB4 gene; Novel variants; Progress familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 3 (PFIC3).

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic* / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic* / drug therapy
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic* / genetics
  • Female
  • Hepatomegaly / drug therapy
  • Hepatomegaly / genetics
  • Humans
  • Jaundice* / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Pruritus / drug therapy
  • Splenomegaly / drug therapy
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid

Supplementary concepts

  • Cholestasis, progressive familial intrahepatic 1
  • Cholestasis, progressive familial intrahepatic 3