Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) encompasses the whole spectrum of steatosis, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and NASH-related cirrhosis (NASH/Cir). Although molecular advances have been made in this field, the pathogenesis of NAFLD is not completely understood. The gene expression profiling associated to NASH/Cir was assessed, in an attempt to better characterize the pathways involved in its etiopathogenesis.
Methods: In the first step, we used cDNA microarray to evaluate the gene expression profiles in normal liver (n=3) and NASH/Cir samples (n=3) by GeneSifter analysis to identify differentially expressed genes and biological pathways. Second, tissue microarray was used to determine immunohistochemical expression of phosphorylated mTOR and 4E-BP1 in 11 normal liver samples, 10 NASH/Cir samples and in 37 samples of cirrhosis of other etiologies to further explore the involvement of the mTOR pathway evidenced by the gene expression analysis.
Results: 138 and 106 genes were, respectively, up and down regulated in NASH/Cir in comparison to normal liver. Among the 9 pathways identified as significantly modulated in NASH/Cir, the participation of the mTOR pathway was confirmed, since expression of cytoplasmic and membrane phospho-mTOR were higher in NASH/Cir in comparison to cirrhosis of other etiologies and to normal liver.
Conclusions: Recent findings have suggested a role for the cellular "nutrient sensor" mTOR in NAFLD and the present study corroborates the participation of this pathway in NASH/Cir. Phospho-mTOR evaluation might be of clinical utility as a potential marker for identification of NASH/Cir in cases mistakenly considered as cryptogenic cirrhosis owing to paucity of clinical data.