Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a liver pathology with increasing prevalence due to the obesity epidemic. Hence, NAFLD represents a rising threat to public health. Currently, no effective treatments are available to treat NAFLD and its complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) are ligand-activated nuclear receptors which regulate lipid and glucose metabolism as well as inflammation. Here we review recent findings on the pathophysiological role of PPARs in the different stages of NAFLD, from steatosis development to steatohepatitis and fibrosis, as well as the preclinical and clinical evidence for potential therapeutical use of PPAR agonists in the treatment of NAFLD. PPARs play a role in modulating hepatic triglyceride accumulation, a hallmark of the development of NAFLD. Moreover, PPARs may also influence the evolution of reversible steatosis toward irreversible, more advanced lesions. Presently, large controlled trials of long duration are needed to assess the long-term clinical benefits of PPAR agonists in humans. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Triglyceride Metabolism and Disease.
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