Diagnostic accuracy of novel mRNA blood biomarkers of infection to predict outcomes in emergency department patients with undifferentiated abdominal pain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Scientific reports








Abdominal pain represents greater than 20% of US Emergency Department (ED) visits due to a wide range of illnesses. There are currently no reliable blood biomarkers to predict serious outcomes in patients with abdominal pain. Our previous studies have identified three mRNA transcripts related to innate immune activation: alkaline phosphatase (ALPL), interleukin-8 receptor-β (IL8RB), and defensin-1 (DEFA1) as promising candidates to detect an intra-abdominal infection. The objective of this study was to evaluate the accuracy of these mRNA biomarkers to predict likely infection, hospitalization and surgery in Emergency Department patients with undifferentiated abdominal pain. We prospectively enrolled Emergency Department patients with undifferentiated abdominal pain who received an abdominal CT scan as part of their evaluation. Clinical outcomes were abstracted from the CT scan and medical records. mRNA biomarker levels were calculated independent of the clinical outcomes and their accuracy was assessed to predict infectious diagnoses, surgery and hospital admission. 89 patients were enrolled; 21 underwent surgery; 47 underwent hospital admission; and, no deaths were observed within 30 days. In identifying which cases were likely infectious, mRNA biomarkers' AUC values were: ALPL, 0.83; DEFA1 0.51; IL8RB, 0.74; and ALPL + IL8RB, 0.79. In predicting which Emergency Department patients would receive surgery, the AUC values were: ALPL, 0.75; DEFA1, 0.58; IL8RB, 0.75; and ALPL + IL8RB, 0.76. In predicting hospital admission, the AUC values were: ALPL, 0.78; DEFA1, 0.52; IL8RB, 0.74; and, ALPL + IL8RB, 0.77. For predicting surgery, ALPL + IL8RB's positive likelihood ratio (LR) was 3.97; negative LR (NLR) was 0.70. For predicting hospital admission, the same marker's positive LR was 2.80 with an NLR of 0.45. Where the primary cause for admission was a potentially infectious disorder, 33 of 34 cases (97%) had positive RNA scores. In a pragmatic, prospective diagnostic accuracy trial in Emergency Department patients with undifferentiated abdominal pain, mRNA biomarkers showed good accuracy to identify patients with potential infection, as well as those needing surgery or hospital admission.


Emergency Medicine