1Institute of Liver Studies, King's College London School of Medicine, King's College Hospital, King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 9RS, UK.
2McGuire VA Medical Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA.
3Institute of Liver Studies, King's College London School of Medicine, King's College Hospital, King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 9RS, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org.
A clinical science workshop was held at the ISHEN meeting in London on Friday 11th September 2014 with the aim of thrashing out how we might translate what we know about the central role of the gut-liver-brain axis into targets which we can use in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy (HE). This review summarises the integral role that inter-organ ammonia metabolism plays in the pathogenesis of HE with specific discussion of the roles that the small and large intestine, liver, brain, kidney and muscle assume in ammonia and glutamine metabolism. Most recently, the salivary and gut microbiome have been shown to underpin the pathophysiological changes which culminate in HE and patients with advanced cirrhosis present with enteric dysbiosis with small bowel bacterial overgrowth and translocation of bacteria and their products across a leaky gut epithelial barrier. Resident macrophages within the liver are able to sense bacterial degradation products initiating a pro-inflammatory response within the hepatic parenchyma and release of cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-8 into the systemic circulation. The endotoxemia and systemic inflammatory response that are generated predispose both to the development of infection as well as the manifestation of covert and overt HE. Co-morbidities such as diabetes and insulin resistance, which commonly accompany cirrhosis, may promote slow gut transit, promote bacterial overgrowth and increase glutaminase activity and may need to be acknowledged in HE risk stratification assessments and therapeutic regimens. Therapies are discussed which target ammonia production, utilisation or excretion at an individual organ level, or which reduce systemic inflammation and endotoxemia which are known to exacerbate the cerebral effects of ammonia in HE. The ideal therapeutic strategy would be to use an agent that can reduce hyperammonemia and reduce systemic inflammation or perhaps to adopt a combination of therapies that can address both.