The microbiota in cirrhosis and its role in hepatic decompensation

Jonel Trebicka*, Jane Macnaughtan, Bernd Schnabl, Debbie L. Shawcross, Jasmohan S. Bajaj

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Cirrhosis – the common end-stage of chronic liver disease – is associated with a cascade of events, of which intestinal bacterial overgrowth and dysbiosis are central. Bacterial toxins entering the portal or systemic circulation can directly cause hepatocyte death, while dysbiosis also affects gut barrier function and increases bacterial translocation, leading to infections, systemic inflammation and vasodilation, which contribute to acute decompensation and organ failure. Acute decompensation and its severe forms, pre-acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) and ACLF, are characterised by sudden organ dysfunction (and failure) and high short-term mortality. Patients with pre-ACLF and ACLF present with high-grade systemic inflammation, usually precipitated by proven bacterial infection and/or severe alcoholic hepatitis. However, no precipitant is identified in 30% of these patients, in whom bacterial translocation from the gut microbiota is assumed to be responsible for systemic inflammation and decompensation. Different microbiota profiles may influence the rate of decompensation and thereby outcome in these patients. Thus, targeting the microbiota is a promising strategy for the prevention and treatment of acute decompensation, pre-ACLF and ACLF. Approaches include the use of antibiotics such as rifaximin, faecal microbial transplantation and enterosorbents (e.g. Yaq-001), which bind microbial factors without exerting a direct effect on bacterial growth kinetics. This review focuses on the role of microbiota in decompensation and strategies targeting microbiota to prevent acute decompensation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue numberSuppl. 1
Pages (from-to)S67-S81
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 European Association for the Study of the Liver


  • Acute decompensation
  • Acute-on-chronic liver failure
  • Cirrhosis
  • Gut-liver-axis
  • Portal hypertension


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