Perfluoroalkyl substances and severity of nonalcoholic fatty liver in Children: An untargeted metabolomics approach

Ran Jin, Rob McConnell, Cioffi Catherine, Shujing Xu, Douglas I. Walker, Nikos Stratakis, Dean P. Jones, Gary W. Miller, Cheng Peng, David V. Conti, Miriam B. Vos, Leda Chatzi

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82 Scopus citations


Background: Toxicant-associated steatohepatitis has been described in adults but less is known regarding the role of toxicants in liver disease of children. Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) cause hepatic steatosis in rodents, but few previous studies have examined PFAS effects on severity of liver injury in children. Objectives: We aimed to examine the relationship of PFAS to histologic severity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children. Methods: Seventy-four children with physician-diagnosed NAFLD were recruited from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta between 2007 and 2015. Biopsy-based liver histological features were scored for steatosis, lobular and portal inflammation, ballooning, and fibrosis. Plasma concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and untargeted plasma metabolomic profiling, were determined using liquid chromatography with high-resolution mass spectrometry. A metabolome-wide association study coupled with pathway enrichment analysis was performed to evaluate metabolic dysregulation associated with PFAS. A structural integrated analysis was applied to identify latent clusters of children with more severe form of NAFLD based on their PFAS levels and metabolite pattern. Results: Patients were 7–19 years old, mostly boys (71%), Hispanic (51%), and obese (85%). The odds of having nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), compared to children with steatosis alone, was significantly increased with each interquartile range (IQR) increase of PFOS (OR: 3.32, 95% CI: 1.40–7.87) and PFHxS (OR: 4.18, 95% CI: 1.64–10.7). Each IQR increase of PFHxS was associated with increased odds for liver fibrosis (OR: 4.44, 95% CI: 1.34–14.8), lobular inflammation (OR: 2.87, 95% CI: 1.12–7.31), and higher NAFLD activity score (β coefficient 0.46; 95% CI: 0.03, 0.89). A novel integrative analysis identified a cluster of children with NASH, characterized by increased PFAS levels and altered metabolite patterns including higher plasma levels of phosphoethanolamine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, aspartate and creatine, and decreased plasma levels of betaine. Conclusions: Ηigher PFAS exposure was associated with more severe disease in children with NAFLD. PFAS may be an important toxicant contributing to NAFLD progression; however larger, longitudinal studies are warranted to confirm these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105220
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


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