JHEP Rep. 2020 Sep 2;3(1):100176. doi: 10.1016/j.jhepr.2020.100176. eCollection 2021 Feb.
The term acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) defines an abrupt and life-threatening worsening of clinical conditions in patients with cirrhosis or chronic liver disease. In recent years, different definitions and diagnostic criteria for the syndrome have been proposed by the major international scientific societies. The main controversies relate to the type of acute insult (specifically hepatic or also extrahepatic), the stage of underlying liver disease (cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis) and the concomitant extrahepatic organ failure(s) that should be considered in the definition of ACLF. Therefore, different severity criteria and prognostic scores have been proposed and validated. Current evidence shows that the pathophysiology of ACLF is closely associated with an intense systemic inflammation sustained by circulating pathogen-associated molecular patterns and damage-associated molecular patterns. The development of organ failures may be a result of a combination of tissue hypoperfusion, direct immune-mediated damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. Management of ACLF is currently based on the supportive treatment of organ failures, mainly in an intensive care setting. For selected patients, liver transplantation is an effective treatment that offers a good long-term prognosis. Future studies on potential mechanistic treatments that improve patient survival are eagerly awaited.