Many patients with indeterminate pediatric acute liver failure (PALF) have evidence of T-cell driven immune injury; however, the precise inflammatory pathways are not well defined. We have characterized the hepatic cytokine and transcriptional signatures of patients with PALF. A retrospective review was performed on 22 children presenting with indeterminate (IND-PALF; n = 17) or other known diagnoses (DX-PALF; n = 6) with available archived liver tissue. Specimens were stained for clusters of differentiation 8 (CD8) T cells and scored as dense, moderate, or minimal. Measurement of immune analytes and RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) was performed on whole-liver tissue. Immune analyte data were analyzed by principal component analysis, and RNA-seq was analyzed by unsupervised hierarchical clustering, differential gene expression, and gene-set enrichment analysis. Most patients with IND-PALF (94%) had dense/moderate CD8 staining and were characterized by Th1 immune analytes including tumor necrosis factor α, interferon γ (IFN-γ), interleukin (IL) 1β, IL-12, C-X-C motif chemokine ligand (CXCL) 9, and CXCL12. Transcriptional analyses identified two transcriptional PALF phenotypes. Most patients in group 1 (91%) had IND-PALF and dense/moderate CD8 staining. This group was characterized by increased expression of genes and cell subset–specific signatures related to innate inflammation, T-cell activation, and antigen stimulation. Group 1 expressed significantly higher levels of gene signatures for regulatory T cells, macrophages, Th1 cells, T effector memory cells, cytotoxic T cells, and activated dendritic cells (adjusted P < 0.05). In contrast, patients in group 2 exhibited increased expression for genes involved in metabolic processes. Conclusion: Patients with IND-PALF have evidence of a Th1-mediated inflammatory response driven by IFN-γ. Transcriptional analyses suggest that a complex immune network may regulate an immune-driven PALF phenotype with less evidence of metabolic processes. These findings provide insight into mechanisms of hepatic injury in PALF, areas for future research, and potential therapeutic targets.
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