Role of innate immunity and the microbiota in liver fibrosis: crosstalk between the liver and gut

J Physiol. 2012 Feb 1;590(3):447-58. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.219691. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


Liver fibrosis occurs as a wound-healing scar response following chronic liver inflammation including alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, viral hepatitis, cholestatic liver disease and autoimmune liver diseases. The liver has a unique vascular system within the gastrointestinal tract, as the majority of the liver's blood supply comes from the intestine through the portal vein. When the intestinal barrier function is disrupted, an increase in intestinal permeability leads to the translocation of intestine-derived bacterial products such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and unmethylated CpG containing DNA to the liver via the portal vein. These gut-derived bacterial products stimulate innate immune receptors, namely Toll-like receptors (TLRs), in the liver. TLRs are expressed on Kupffer cells, endothelial cells, dendritic cells, biliary epithelial cells, hepatic stellate cells, and hepatocytes. TLRs activate these cells to contribute to acute and chronic liver diseases. This review summarizes recent studies investigating the role of TLRs, intestinal microbiota and bacterial translocation in liver fibrosis, alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Translocation
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / immunology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / microbiology*
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / immunology
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / microbiology
  • Metagenome
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology*


  • Toll-Like Receptors