Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a substantial and growing problem worldwide and has become the second most common indication for liver transplantation as it may progress to cirrhosis and develop complications from portal hypertension primarily caused by advanced fibrosis and erratic tissue remodeling. However, elevated portal venous pressure has also been detected in experimental models of fatty liver and in human NAFLD when fibrosis is far less advanced and cirrhosis is absent. Early increases in intrahepatic vascular resistance may contribute to the progression of liver disease. Specific pathophenotypes linked to the development of portal hypertension in NAFLD include hepatocellular lipid accumulation and ballooning injury, capillarization of liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, enhanced contractility of hepatic stellate cells, activation of Kupffer cells and pro-inflammatory pathways, adhesion and entrapment of recruited leukocytes, microthrombosis, angiogenesis and perisinusoidal fibrosis. These pathological events are amplified in NAFLD by concomitant visceral obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and dysbiosis, promoting aberrant interactions with adipose tissue, skeletal muscle and gut microbiota. Measurement of the hepatic venous pressure gradient by retrograde insertion of a balloon-tipped central vein catheter is the current reference method for predicting outcomes of cirrhosis associated with clinically significant portal hypertension and guiding interventions. This invasive technique is rarely considered in the absence of cirrhosis where currently available clinical, imaging and laboratory correlates of portal hypertension may not reflect early changes in liver hemodynamics. Availability of less invasive but sufficiently sensitive methods for the assessment of portal venous pressure in NAFLD remains therefore an unmet need. Recent efforts to develop new biomarkers and endoscopy-based approaches such as endoscopic ultrasound-guided measurement of portal pressure gradient may help achieve this goal. In addition, cellular and molecular targets are being identified to guide emerging therapies in the prevention and management of portal hypertension.
To test if the impairment of mononuclear cell (MNC) migration in patients with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) is due to the reduction of the endoglin (ENG) receptor on the cell surface and oxidative stress.
MNCs of HHT patients and normal controls were subjected to migration assay. Fractions of MNCs were pre-incubated with antibodies specific to HHT causative genes ENG [hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia type 1 (HHT1)] or activin receptor-like kinase 1 [ALK1, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia type 2 (HHT2)], AMD3100 or Diprotin-A to block ENG, ALK1 C-X-C chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) or CD26 (increased in HHT1 MNCs) before migration assay. The MNCs were allowed to migrate toward stromal cell-derived factor-1α (SDF-1α) for 18 h. The expression of CXCR4, CD26, superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) and glutathione peroxidase 1 (GPX1) in MNCs and nitric oxide levels in the plasma were analyzed.
Compared to the controls, fewer HHT1 MNCs and similar number of HHT2 MNCs migrated toward SDF-1α. Diprotin-A pre-treatment improved HHT1 MNC-migration, but had no effect on normal and HHT2 MNCs. Pre-incubation with an anti-ENG antibody reduced the migration of normal MNCs. Diprotin-A did not improve the migration of ENG antibody pre-treated MNCs. Anti-ALK1 antibody had no effect on MNC-migration. AMD3100 treatment reduced normal and HHT MNC-migration. ENG mRNA level was reduced in HHT1 and HHT2 MNCs. ALK1 mRNA was reduced in HHT2 MNCs only. CD26 expression was higher in HHT1 MNCs. Pre-treatment of MNCs with anti-ENG or anti-ALK1 antibody had no effect on CD26 and CXCR4 expression. The expression of antioxidant enzymes, SOD1, was reduced in HHT1 MNCs, which was accompanied with an increase of ROS in HHT MNCs and nitric oxide in HHT1 plasma.
Reduction of ENG receptor on MNC surface reduced monocyte migration toward SDF-1α independent of CD26 expression. Increased oxidative stress could alter HHT MNC migration behavior.
Epigenetic variation of DNA methylation of the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) has been identified in the blood and saliva of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) and infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). It is unknown whether epigenetic variation in OPRM1 exists within placental tissue in women with OUD and whether it is associated with NOWS outcomes. In this pilot study, the authors aimed to 1) examine the association between placental OPRM1 DNA methylation levels and NOWS outcomes, and 2) compare OPRM1 methylation levels in opioid-exposed versus non-exposed control placentas.
Placental tissue was collected from eligible opioid (n = 64) and control (n = 29) women after delivery. Placental DNA was isolated and methylation levels at six cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites within the OPRM1 promoter were quantified. Methylation levels were evaluated for associations with infant NOWS outcome measures: need for pharmacologic treatment, length of hospital stay (LOS), morphine treatment days, and treatment with two medications. Regression models were created and adjusted for clinical co-variates. Methylation levels between opioid and controls placentas were also compared.
The primary opioid exposures were methadone and buprenorphine. Forty-nine (76.6%) of the opioid-exposed infants required pharmacologic treatment, 10 (15.6%) two medications, and average LOS for all opioid-exposed infants was 16.5 (standard deviation 9.7) days. There were no significant associations between OPRM1 DNA methylation levels in the six CpG sites and any NOWS outcome measures. No significant differences were found in methylation levels between the opioid and control samples.
No significant associations were found between OPRM1 placental DNA methylation levels and NOWS severity in this pilot cohort. In addition, no significant differences were seen in OPRM1 methylation in opioid versus control placentas. Future association studies examining methylation levels on a genome-wide level are warranted.
Recent randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have tested the efficacy of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RA) to specifically treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We performed a meta-analysis of RCTs to investigate the efficacy of GLP-1 RAs for treatment of NAFLD or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
We systematically searched PubMed and ClinicalTrials.Gov databases utilizing specific terms to identify placebo-controlled or head-to-head RCTs (last research on March 1, 2020) involving NAFLD patients with the aim of evaluating the efficacy of GLP-1 RAs to treat NAFLD/NASH. Primary outcomes were changes in serum liver enzymes, liver fat content, or histologic resolution of NASH. Weighted mean differences (WMD) were used to test the differences between the treatment arms.
Overall, we found 7 placebo-controlled or head-to-head RCTs involving 472 middle-aged individuals (66% men; 77% with established diabetes) followed for a median of 16 weeks that have used liraglutide or exenatide to treat NAFLD on imaging (n = 6) or biopsy (n = 1). Compared to placebo or reference therapy, treatment with GLP-1 RAs decreased serum alanine aminotransferase [n = 7 studies; WMD: –8.77 IU/L, 95% confidence intervals (CI) –17.69 to 0.14 IU/L; I2 = 87.3%], gamma-glutamyltransferase levels (n = 4 studies; WMD: –10.17 IU/L, 95% CI –14.27 IU/L to –6.07 IU/L; I2 = 0%) and imaging-defined liver fat content (n = 4 studies; WMD: –6.23%, 95% CI –8.95% to –3.51%; I2 = 85.9%). In one RCT involving 55 patients with biopsy-proven NASH, a 48-week treatment with liraglutide also led to a greater histological resolution of NASH than placebo.
GLP-1 RAs (mostly liraglutide) seem to be a promising treatment option for NAFLD or NASH.
Rational government of patient fluxes from primary care to hepatology clinic is a priority of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) research. Estimating pre-test probability of disease, risk of fibrosis progression, and exclusion of competing causes of liver disease must be addressed. Here we propose a novel taxonomic classification of NAFLD based on hepatic, pathogenic and systemic features of disease in the individual patient. The variable course of disease in any given patient remains a clinical enigma. Therefore, future studies will have to better characterize the role of genetic polymorphisms, family and personal history, diet, alcohol, physical activity and drugs as modifiers of the course of disease and clues to the early diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. A better understanding of these, together with a taxonomic diagnosis, may prompt a more accurate personalization of care. For example, understanding the putative role of psycho-depression in NAFLD promises to revolutionize disease management in a proportion of cases. Similarly, sex differences in outcome and response to treatment are insufficiently characterized. More studies are awaited regarding those forms of NAFLD which occur secondary to endocrine derangements. The intersections between NAFLD and the lung must better be defined. These include the bi-directional associations of NAFLD and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep apnoea syndrome, as well as the totally unexplored chapter of NAFLD and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Finally, the therapeutic roles of intermittent fasting and anticoagulation must be assessed. In conclusion, over the last 20 years, NAFLD has taught us a lot regarding the pathogenic importance of insulin resistance, the limitations of correcting this in the treatment of NAFLD, the root causes of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, sex differences in disease and the role of nuclear receptors. However, the overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic is now expected to reset the priorities of public health.