Source Department of Hepatology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh 160012, India; Department of Histopathology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh 160012, India.
Cerebral edema has been identified in all forms of liver disease and is closely related to the development of hepatic encephalopathy. Cerebral edema is most readily recognized in acute liver failure (ALF), while the main cause of death in patients with ALF is multi-organ failure; brain herniation as a result of intracranial hypertension does remain a major cause of mortality. The mechanisms responsible for cerebral edema in ALF suggest both cytotoxic and vasogenic injury. This article reviews the gross and ultrastructural changes associated with cerebral edema in ALF. The primary cause of cerebral edema is associated with astrocyte swelling, mainly perivascular edema and ammonia still remains the primary neurotoxin involved in its pathogenesis. The astrocytic changes were confined to the gray matter. The other organelles involved in the pathogenesis of ALF include mitochondria, basement membrane, pericytes, microglial cells, blood-brain barrier (BBB) etc. Discrete neuronal changes have recently been reported. Recent studies in animal and humans have demonstrated the microglial changes which have the potential to cause neuronal dysfunction in ALF. The alterations in BBB still remain unclear though few studies have showed disruption of tight junction proteins indicating the involvement of BBB in cellular swelling.