Food and Behaviour Research

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Elevated C-reactive protein mediates the liver-brain axis: a preliminary study

Jiang R, Wu J, Rosenblatt M, Dai W, Rodriguez R, Sui J, Qi S, Liang Q, Xu B, Meng Q, Calhoun V, Scheinost D (2023) EBioMedicine Jun 23;93:104679 doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104679 

Web URL: Read this article on PubMed

Abstract:

Background: Chronic liver diseases of all etiologies exist along a spectrum with varying degrees of hepatic fibrosis. Despite accumulating evidence implying associations between liver fibrosis and cognitive functioning, there is limited research exploring the underlying neurobiological factors and the possible mediating role of inflammation on the liver-brain axis.

Methods: Using data from the UK Biobank, we examined the cross-sectional association of liver fibrosis (as measured by Fibrosis-4 score) with cognitive functioning and regional grey matter volumes (GMVs) while adjusting for numerous covariates and multiple comparisons. We further performed post-hoc preliminary analysis to investigate the mediating effect of C-reactive protein (CRP) on the association between liver fibrosis and both cognitive functioning and GMVs.

Findings: We analysed behaviour from up to 447,626 participants (N ranged from 45,055 to 447,533 per specific cognitive metric) 37 years and older. 38,244 participants (age range 44-82 years) had GMV data collected at a median 9-year follow-up. Liver fibrosis showed significant associations with cognitive performance in reasoning, working memory, visual memory, prospective memory, executive function, and processing speed. Subgroup analysis indicated larger effects sizes for symbol digital substitution but smaller effect sizes for trail making in middle-aged people than their old counterparts. Neuroimaging analyses revealed significant associations between liver fibrosis and reduced regional GMVs, primarily in the hippocampus, thalamus, ventral striatum, parahippocampal gyrus, brain stem, and cerebellum. CRP levels were significantly higher in adults with advanced liver fibrosis than those without, indicating an elevated systemic inflammation. Moreover, the serum CRP significantly mediated the effect of liver fibrosis on most cognitive measures and regional GMVs in the hippocampus and brain stem.

Interpretation: This study provides a well-powered characterization of associations between liver fibrosis, cognitive impairment, and grey matter atrophy. It also highlights the possibly mediating role of systemic inflammation on the liver-brain axis. Early surveillance and prevention of liver diseases may reduce cognitive decline and brain GMV loss.