Early Molecular Stratification of High-risk Primary Biliary Cholangitis

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High-risk primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), defined by inadequate response at one year to Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is associated with disease progression and liver transplantation. Stratifying high-risk patients early would facilitate improved approaches to care. Using long-term follow-up data to define risk at presentation, 6 high-risk PBC patients and 8 low-risk patients were identified from biopsy, transplant and biochemical archival records. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) liver biopsies taken at presentation were graded (Scheuer and Nakanuma scoring) and gene expression analysed using the NanoString® nCounter PanCancer Immunity 770-gene panel. Principle component analysis (PCA) demonstrated discrete gene expression clustering between controls and high- and low-risk PBC. High-risk PBC was characterised by up-regulation of genes linked to T-cell activation and apoptosis, INF-γ signalling and leukocyte migration and down-regulation of those linked to the complement pathway. CDKN1a, up-regulated in high-risk PBC, correlated with significantly increased expression of its gene product, the senescence marker p21WAF1/Cip, by biliary epithelial cells. Our findings suggest high- and low-risk PBC are biologically different from disease outset and senescence an early feature in high-risk disease. Identification of a high-risk ‘signal’ early from standard FFPE tissue sections has clear clinical utility allowing for patient stratification and second-line therapeutic intervention.




Hardie, C., Green, K., Jopson, L., Millar, B., Innes, B., Pagan, S., … Walker, L. J. (2016). Early Molecular Stratification of High-risk Primary Biliary Cholangitis. EBioMedicine, 14, 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.11.021

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