Progress in development of prognostic and therapeutic options for the rare cholestatic liver diseases, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), is hampered by limited knowledge of their pathogeneses. In particular, the potential role of hepatotoxic and/or metabolism-altering environmental chemicals in the pathogenesis of these diseases remains relatively unstudied. Moreover, the extent to which metabolic pathways are altered due to ongoing cholestasis and subsequent liver damage or possibly influenced by hepatotoxic chemicals is poorly understood. In this study, we applied a comprehensive exposomics-metabolomics approach to uncover potential pathogenic contributors to PSC and PBC. We used untargeted high-resolution mass spectrometry to characterize a wide range of exogenous chemicals and endogenous metabolites in plasma and tested them for association with disease. Exposome-wide association studies (EWAS) identified environmental chemicals, including pesticides, additives and persistent pollutants, that were associated with PSC and/or PBC, suggesting potential roles for these compounds in disease pathogenesis. Metabolome-wide association studies (MWAS) found disease-associated alterations to amino acid, eicosanoid, lipid, co-factor, nucleotide, mitochondrial and microbial metabolic pathways, many of which were shared between PSC and PBC. Notably, this analysis implicates a potential role of the 5-lipoxygenase pathway in the pathogenesis of these diseases. Finally, EWAS × MWAS network analysis uncovered linkages between environmental agents and disrupted metabolic pathways that provide insight into potential mechanisms for PSC and PBC. Conclusion: This study establishes combined exposomics-metabolomics as a generalizable approach to identify potentially pathogenic environmental agents and enumerate metabolic alterations that may impact PSC and PBC, providing a foundation for diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
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