Background: Liver injury is a known feature of severe malaria, but is only incidentally investigated in uncomplicated disease. In such cases, drug-induced hepatotoxicity is often thought to be the primary cause of the observed liver injury, and this can be a major concern in antimalaria drug development. We investigated liver function test (LFT) abnormalities in patients with imported uncomplicated malaria, and in Controlled Human Malaria Infection (CHMI) studies. Methods: Clinical and laboratory data from 484 imported malaria cases and 254 CHMI participants were obtained from the Rotterdam Malaria Cohort database, and the Radboud University Medical Center database (between 2001 and 2017), respectively. Routine clinical LFTs, clinical profiles, parasite densities, hematological, and inflammation parameters were assessed in 217 patients with imported falciparum malaria upon admission, and from longitudinal data of 187 CHMI participants. Findings: Upon admission, the proportion of patients with imported uncomplicated malaria and elevated liver enzymes was 128/186 (69%). In CHMI, 97/187 (52%) participants showed LFT abnormalities, including mild (64%, >1.0 ≤ 2.5× upper limit of normal (ULN)), moderate (20%, >2.5 ≤ 5.0xULN) or severe (16%, >5.0xULN). LFT abnormalities were primarily ALT/AST elevations and to a lesser extent γGT and ALP. LFT abnormalities peaked shortly after initiation of treatment, regardless of drug regimen, and returned to normal within three to six weeks. Positive associations were found with parasite burden and inflammatory parameters, including cumulative inflammatory cytokine responses and oxidative stress markers (r = 0·65, p = 0·008, and r = −0·63, p = 0·001, respectively). Interpretation: This study shows that reversible liver injury is a common feature of uncomplicated falciparum malaria, most likely caused by an enduring pro-inflammatory response post treatment. The recognition of this phenomenon is of clinical relevance for individual patient care as well as clinical development of (new) antimalarial drugs. Fund: PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI)

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Keywords Inflammation, Liver injury, Malaria, Oxidative stress, Pathogenesis
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Journal EBioMedicine
Reuling, I.J. (Isaie J.), de Jong, G.M. (Gerdie M.), Yap, X.Z. (Xi Zen), Asghar, M. (Muhammad), Walk, J. (Jona), van de Schans, L.A. (Lisanne A.), … Sauerwein, R.W. (2018). Liver Injury in Uncomplicated Malaria is an Overlooked Phenomenon: An Observational Study. EBioMedicine. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2018.09.018