Development of circulating microRNA in drug-induced liver injury: studies in humans and zebrafish
Vliegenthart, Adriaan Daniel Bastiaan
The aim of these studies was to identify circulating miRNAs that can be used as biomarkers in patients with paracetamol-induced liver injury. Whether the miRNAs discovered in humans could be back-translated to zebrafish with the aim of developing a liver toxicity model to replace rodent use was also investigated. First, the miRNA signature of DILI induced by paracetamol was defined. Plasma miRNAs were quantified in paracetamol overdose patients. A signature of 16 miRNAs was discovered that best separated patients with liver injury from those without liver injury. This signature was tested in a second cohort and resulted in the detection of paracetamol-induced liver injury with high specificity and sensitivity. At first presentation to hospital miR-122-5p was the most sensitive single miRNA and superior to ALT activity in predicting liver injury. In order to further qualify miR-122-5p, three detailed studies relevant to possible clinical scenarios were performed. The effect of acute alcohol ingestion (commonly co-ingested with paracetamol overdose) on circulating concentrations of miR-122-5p in healthy volunteers was investigated. Alcohol ingestion induced a small, non-clinically relevant, increase in miR-122-5p. The effect of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and haemodialysis (HD) on circulating miR-122-5p concentrations was explored because kidney dysfunction has been associated with a reduction in the concentration of circulating miRNAs. HD patients had lower concentrations of miR- 122-5p compared to healthy volunteers and CKD patients. To facilitate miRNA measurement outwith hospitals, miR-122-5p was measured in a blood drop from a finger prick. miR-122-5p was readily measurable in finger prick samples and concentrations were significantly higher in the blood drop from DILI patients compared with healthy volunteers. To complement miR-122-5p as a marker of toxicity, circulating paracetamol metabolites were measured in plasma samples from paracetamol overdose patients. A higher percentage of circulating metabolites formed by cytochrome P450 enzymes were present in patients with liver injury and these metabolites were superior to both ALT and paracetamol concentration with regard to early patient stratification. To reduce need for rodent studies, miRNAs were back-translated into zebrafish. In order to study circulating miR-122-5p in adult zebrafish, a bloodletting method by collecting blood retro-orbitally was developed. After studying different dosing regimens of paracetamol in adult and larvae zebrafish the model was determined to be too variable with regard to liver injury. A new drug, triptolide, originating from traditional Chinese medicine and responsible for DILI in China, was tested as an alternative model for drug-induced liver injury in zebrafish larvae. miRNA-122-5p decreased in zebrafish larvae after triptolide treatment and triptolide-induced liver injury could be tracked by fluorescent microscopy. Selective plane illumination microscopy was able to track the decrease in liver volume during triptolide exposure. In order to identify the toxic pathways involved in triptolide-induced liver injury, RNA-sequencing was performed. This identified KEGG pathways including ribosome, spliceosome and notch signalling as pathways affected by triptolide. In summary, miRNAs can be used as highly sensitive biomarkers to detect acute liver injury in patients and zebrafish. Zebrafish may represent an alternative model species to study DILI, further work is needed.