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Inhibition of glutamine synthetase in monocytes from patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure resuscitates their antibacterial and inflammatory capacity


Objective Acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) is associated with dysfunctional circulating monocytes whereby patients become highly susceptible to bacterial infections. Here, we identify the pathways underlying monocyte dysfunction in ACLF and we investigate whether metabolic rewiring reinstates their phagocytic and inflammatory capacity.

Design Following phenotypic characterisation, we performed RNA sequencing on CD14+CD16 monocytes from patients with ACLF and decompensated alcoholic cirrhosis. Additionally, an in vitro model mimicking ACLF patient-derived features was implemented to investigate the efficacy of metabolic regulators on monocyte function.

Results Monocytes from patients with ACLF featured elevated frequencies of interleukin (IL)-10-producing cells, reduced human leucocyte antigen DR isotype (HLA-DR) expression and impaired phagocytic and oxidative burst capacity. Transcriptional profiling of isolated CD14+CD16 monocytes in ACLF revealed upregulation of an array of immunosuppressive parameters and compromised antibacterial and antigen presentation machinery. In contrast, monocytes in decompensated cirrhosis showed intact capacity to respond to inflammatory triggers. Culturing healthy monocytes in ACLF plasma mimicked the immunosuppressive characteristics observed in patients, inducing a blunted phagocytic response and metabolic program associated with a tolerant state. Metabolic rewiring of the cells using a pharmacological inhibitor of glutamine synthetase, partially restored the phagocytic and inflammatory capacity of in vitro generated- as well as ACLF patient-derived monocytes. Highlighting its biological relevance, the glutamine synthetase/glutaminase ratio of ACLF patient-derived monocytes positively correlated with disease severity scores.

Conclusion In ACLF, monocytes feature a distinct transcriptional profile, polarised towards an immunotolerant state and altered metabolism. We demonstrated that metabolic rewiring of ACLF monocytes partially revives their function, opening up new options for therapeutic targeting in these patients.

  • acute liver failure
  • alcoholic liver disease
  • immunology in hepatology
  • macrophages
  • bacterial infection

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