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Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2012; 35: 83–91

Summary

Background  Increased intrahepatic vascular resistance and hyperperfusion in the splanchnic circulation are the principal mechanisms leading to portal hypertension in cirrhosis. Several preclinical studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect of the multikinase inhibitor sorafenib on the portal hypertensive syndrome.

Aim  To investigate the effect of sorafenib on hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG), systemic hemodynamics and intrahepatic mRNA expression of proangiogenic, profibrogenic and proinflammatory genes.

Methods  Patients with liver fibrosis/cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma were treated with sorafenib 400 mg b.d. HVPG measurement and transjugular liver biopsy were performed at baseline and at week 2. Changes in HVPG and intrahepatic mRNA expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), RhoA, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and placental growth factor (PlGF) were evaluated.

Results  Thirteen patients (m/f = 12/1; Child–Pugh class A/B = 10/3) were included. The most common aetiology of liver disease was alcohol consumption (n = 7). Eleven patients had an elevated portal pressure, including eight patients with clinically significant portal hypertension. A significant decrease of HVPG (≥ 20% from baseline) was observed in four subjects. In HVPG responders, we observed mRNA downregulation of VEGF, PDGF, PlGF, RhoA kinase and TNF-α, while no substantial mRNA decrease was found in nonresponders in any of the five genes. In two of the four HVPG responders we observed a dramatic (43–85%) mRNA decrease of all five investigated genes.

Conclusion  Larger controlled clinical trials are needed to demonstrate any potential beneficial effect of sorafenib on portal hypertension in patients with cirrhosis.