Surgically restoring portal blood flow to the liver in children with primary extrahepatic portal vein thrombosis improves fluid neurocognitive ability

Cara L. Mack, Frank A. Zelko, Joan Lokar, Riccardo Superina, Estella M. Alonso, Andres T. Blei, Peter F. Whitington*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES. Children with primary extrahepatic portal vein thrombosis (EHPVT) have portal-systemic shunting, which may lead to disturbed neurocognitive function similar to portal-systemic encephalopathy (PSE) seen with chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. The functions most affected are those involving fluid cognitive ability, which comprise neurocognitive domains such as attention, processing speed, and short-term memory, that are particularly vulnerable to systemic illness or diffuse neurologic insult. We determined the fluid cognitive ability of children with EHPVT and whether surgically restoring portal blood flow by mesenteric left portal vein bypass (MLPVB) improved it. DESIGN. Twelve children with EHPVT and no overt PSE underwent comprehensive neurocognitive testing before and 1 year after undergoing surgery with intent to perform MLPVB. The evaluations sampled 4 functional domains at both time points: (1) neurobehavioral (behavior, emotional, executive functioning); (2) broad cognitive (intelligence, achievement); (3) fluid ability (attention, mental speed, working memory, memory encoding); and (4) visual motor (drawing, fine motor). Tasks in the fluid-ability and visual-motor domains were expected to be especially sensitive to adverse effects of EHPVT and to be most likely to show improvement with MLPVB. The test group consisted of 8 subjects who underwent successful MLPVB, and the comparison group was composed of 3 patients who received distal splenorenal shunts and one whose MLPVB failed. RESULTS. Both groups demonstrated similar fluid cognitive ability at initial evaluation. Successful MLPVB resulted in significantly improved fluid cognitive function: in the fluid cognitive domain, significant improvements were seen for the hit reaction time variability in the Conner's Continuous Performance Test, the attention scale of the Cognitive Assessment System, and immediate verbal memory in the Children's Memory Scale. In the visual-motor domain, z scores on the Grooved Pegboard Test improved. No improvement was observed in the comparison group. DISCUSSION. The results show that surgically restoring portal flow to the liver in children with primary EHPVT results in improved fluid cognitive ability. Subjects showed some neurocognitive abnormalities involving mainly fluid cognitive ability consistent with minimal PSE seen in adults with chronic liver disease. Cognitive defects in patients with minimal PSE seem to relate primarily to attention and fine motor skill, and although affected patients can function in everyday life, they are at risk for performance deficits in educational and vocational situations requiring the ability to pay close attention and react quickly (eg, driving, employment in manufacturing). The tests we administered in these domains are pediatric equivalents to measures used to detect minimal PSE in adults and should detect abnormalities in the same functional domains. Our results suggest that a narrow battery of tests could be used to detect minimal PSE in children in a manner similar to the 5-test battery used in adults, eliminating the need for the comprehensive and broad testing we performed. Our findings suggest that shunting of portal blood from the liver in primary EHPVT can result in PSE and question whether it is as benign a disease as previously thought. The importance of our findings is twofold. For understanding the pathophysiology of PSE, we have shown that restoring blood flow to the liver improves cognitive function in children with EHPVT. For therapy for EHPVT, it becomes clear that MLPVB is an excellent treatment option. It is effective for treating the complications of portal hypertension and provides effective portal blood flow that other medical and surgical therapies do not. The findings provide additional evidence that primary EHPVT should be considered curable by MLPVB. However, comparison of overall risks and benefits of MLPVB with those of other therapeutic options and longer-term outcome studies must be completed before MLPVB can be fully endorsed as the best treatment for EHPVT in children. CONCLUSIONS. Surgical restoration of portal venous flow to the liver in children with primary EHPVT by MLPVB improves fluid cognitive ability. MLPVB should be considered in treating primary EHPVT, because it corrects portal blood flow and could optimize learning potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e405-e412
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Fluid cognitive ability
  • Mesenterico-left portal vein bypass
  • Portal vein thrombosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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