Lysophosphatidylcholines modulate immunoregulatory checkpoints in peripheral monocytes and are associated with mortality in people with acute liver failure

Francesca M. Trovato*, Rabiya Zia, Florent Artru, Salma Mujib, Ellen Jerome, Anna Cavazza, Muireann Coen, Ian Wilson, Elaine Holmes, Phillip Morgan, Arjuna Singanayagam, Christine Bernsmeier, Salvatore Napoli, William Bernal, Julia Wendon, Rosa Miquel, Krishna Menon, Vishal C. Patel, John Smith, Stephen R. AtkinsonEvangelos Triantafyllou, Mark J.W. McPhail

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background & Aims: Acute liver failure (ALF) is a life-threatening disease characterised by high-grade inflammation and immunoparesis, which is associated with a high incidence of death from sepsis. Herein, we aimed to describe the metabolic dysregulation in ALF and determine whether systemic immune responses are modulated via the lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC)-autotaxin (ATX)-lysophosphatidylcholinic acid (LPA) pathway. Methods: Ninety-six individuals with ALF, 104 with cirrhosis, 31 with sepsis and 71 healthy controls (HCs) were recruited. Pathways of interest were identified by multivariate statistical analysis of proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and untargeted ultraperformance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry-based lipidomics. A targeted metabolomics panel was used for validation. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were cultured with LPA 16:0, 18:0, 18:1, and their immune checkpoint surface expression was assessed by flow cytometry. Transcript-level expression of the LPA receptor (LPAR) in monocytes was investigated and the effect of LPAR antagonism was also examined in vitro. Results: LPC 16:0 was highly discriminant between ALF and HC. There was an increase in ATX and LPA in individuals with ALF compared to HCs and those with sepsis. LPCs 16:0, 18:0 and 18:1 were reduced in individuals with ALF and were associated with a poor prognosis. Treatment of monocytes with LPA 16:0 increased their PD-L1 expression and reduced CD155, CD163, MerTK levels, without affecting immune checkpoints on T and NK/CD56+T cells. LPAR1 and 3 antagonism in culture reversed the effect of LPA on monocyte expression of MerTK and CD163. MerTK and CD163, but not LPAR genes, were differentially expressed and upregulated in monocytes from individuals with ALF compared to controls. Conclusion: Reduced LPC levels are biomarkers of poor prognosis in individuals with ALF. The LPC-ATX-LPA axis appears to modulate innate immune response in ALF via LPAR1 and LPAR3. Further investigations are required to identify novel therapeutic agents targeting these receptors. Impact and implications: We identified a metabolic signature of acute liver failure (ALF) and investigated the immunometabolic role of the lysophosphatidylcholine-autotaxin-lysophosphatidylcholinic acid pathway, with the aim of finding a mechanistic explanation for monocyte behaviour and identifying possible therapeutic targets (to modulate the systemic immune response in ALF). At present, no selective immune-based therapies exist. We were able to modulate the phenotype of monocytes in vitro and aim to extend these findings to murine models of ALF as a next step. Future therapies may be based on metabolic modulation; thus, the role of specific lipids in this pathway require elucidation and the relative merits of autotaxin inhibition, lysophosphatidylcholinic acid receptor blockade or lipid-based therapies need to be determined. Our findings begin to bridge this knowledge gap and the methods used herein could be useful in identifying therapeutic targets as part of an experimental medicine approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-573
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • acute liver failure
  • CD163
  • immune checkpoint
  • LPAR
  • lysophosphatidylcholine
  • MerTK
  • Monocytes
  • RNA sequencing


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