The liver plays a vital role in the body acting as a filter. On the other hand, when it malfunctions, it can seize the machine of the human body and even become very dangerous for the brain. Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), University Hospitals of Geneva, EPFL, CHUV and the University of Lausanne conducted a study on rats. They have shown how chronic diseases of the liver cause molecular changes in the brain and in some cases lead to hepatic encephalopathy. This pathology can lead to psychological, motor and cognitive impairment, or even coma.

When the liver is sick, in case of cirrhosis for example, it filters less well and lets pass some substances in too large quantities. This is the case with ammonium, some of which rises to the brain to be transformed into glutamine, itself used to produce neurotransmitters for communication between cells. An excess of ammonium therefore leads to an excess of glutamine. "The latter draws water into the cells, which start to swell," explains Valérie McLin, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UNIGE's Faculty of Medicine, who led the study with Olivier Braissant and Cristina Cudalbu. Their architecture is altered and they can malfunction. This can trigger cerebral edema and, in some cases, hepatic encephalopathy. "

But ammonium is not the only cause of this condition. The researchers identified two new actors: rats with chronic liver disease showed a sudden drop in vitamin C and creatine, which in particular performs energy functions. They also discovered that liver dysfunction can cause brain disruption in as little as two weeks, without physical symptoms of liver disease already being seen. So far, previous studies have reported six weeks.

These two findings suggest that in the event of chronic liver disease, early brain analysis could detect possible damage before the health state deteriorates. "In addition, adds Valérie McLin, one could imagine, one day, reduce the consequences of this pathology on the brain by compensating the lack of creatine and vitamin C by supplements."

Observations are now underway in humans to see if brain damage is similar to that in rats.

Created: 19.08.2019, 18:57

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