The spectrum of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) includes a nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The specific types and amounts of lipids that accumulate in NAFLD are not fully defined. The free fatty acid (FFA), diacylglycerol (DAG), triacylglycerol (TAG), free cholesterol (FC), cholesterol ester, and phospholipid contents in normal livers were quantified and compared to those of NAFL and NASH, and the distribution of fatty acids within these classes was compared across these groups. Hepatic lipids were quantified by capillary gas chromatography. The mean (nmol/g of tissue) DAG (normal/NAFL/NASH: 1922 versus 4947 versus 3304) and TAG (13,609 versus 128,585 versus 104,036) increased significantly in NAFLD, but FFA remained unaltered (5533 versus 5929 versus 6115). There was a stepwise increase in the mean TAG/DAG ratio from normal livers to NAFL to NASH (7 versus 26 versus 31, P < 0.001). There was also a similar stepwise increment in hepatic FC (7539 versus 10,383 versus 12,863, P < 0.05 for NASH). The total phosphatidylcholine (PC) decreased in both NAFL and NASH. The FC/PC ratio increased progressively (0.34 versus 0.69 versus 0.71, P < 0.008 for both). Although the levels for linoleic acid (18:2n-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) remained unaltered, there was a decrease in arachidonic acid (20:4n-6) in FFA, TAG, and PC (P < 0.05 for all) in NASH. Eicosapentanoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexanoic acid (22:6n-3) were decreased in TAG in NASH. The n-6:n-3 FFA ratio increased in NASH (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: NAFLD is associated with numerous changes in the lipid composition of the liver. The potential implications are discussed.