Insulin sensitizers in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and steatohepatitis: Current status

Adv Ther. 2009 Oct;26(10):893-907. doi: 10.1007/s12325-009-0072-z. Epub 2009 Nov 16.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), first described in 1980, is now recognized as one of the most common causes of elevated liver enzymes and chronic liver disease in Western countries. The incidence of NAFLD in both adults and children is rising, in conjunction with the burgeoning epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. NAFLD often coexists with other sequelae of the metabolic syndrome: central obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. NAFLD encompasses a spectrum of pathologic liver diseases ranging from simple hepatic steatosis to a predominant lobular necro-inflammation, with or without centrilobular fibrosis (called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH). NASH can progress to cirrhosis, decompensated liver disease, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Though the natural history of NASH is still not clearly defined, it has been observed to progress to cirrhosis in 15%-220% of those affected. Insulin resistance is nearly universal in NASH and is thought to play an important role in its pathogenesis leading to dysregulated lipid metabolism. The prevalence of insulin resistance is reported in the general population to be approaching 45%, suggesting that NAFLD and NASH will contin nue to be an important public health concern. To date, NASH has proven to be a difficult disease to treat. Front-line therapy with lifestyle modifications resulting in weight loss through decreased caloric intake and moderate exercise is generally believed to be beneficial in patients with NASH, but is often difficult to maintain long term. Given that insulin resistance plays a dominant role in the pathogenesis, many studies have examined the use of insulin sensitizers: the biguanides (metformin), thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone, troglitazone, and rosiglitazone), glucagon-like peptide-1-receptor agonists, or incretins (exenatide)in NASH. This review will provide an overview of insulin resistance in NAFLD and provide a detailed summary on the clinical data regarding the use of insulin sensitizers in NASH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fatty Liver / drug therapy*
  • Fatty Liver / physiopathology
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / agonists
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Prevalence
  • Thiazolidinediones / therapeutic use
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • Triglycerides
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1
  • Metformin
  • Glucose