Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with lower hepatic and erythrocyte ratios of phosphatidylcholine to phosphatidylethanolamine

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Mar;38(3):334-40. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2012-0261. Epub 2012 Oct 15.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is associated with altered hepatic lipid composition. Animal studies suggest that the hepatic ratio of phosphatidylcholine (PC) to phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) contributes to steatogenesis and inflammation. This ratio may be influenced by dysregulation of the PE N-methyltransferase (PEMT) pathway or by a low-choline diet. Alterations in the liver may also influence lipid composition in circulation such as in erythrocytes, which therefore may have utility as a biomarker of hepatic disease. Currently, no study has assessed both liver and erythrocyte PC/PE ratios in NAFLD. The aim of this study was to compare the PC/PE ratio in the liver and erythrocytes of patients with simple steatosis (SS) or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) with that of healthy controls. PC and PE were measured by mass spectrometry in 28 patients with biopsy-proven NAFLD (14 SS, 14 NASH) and 9 healthy living liver donors as controls. The hepatic PC/PE ratio was lower in SS patients (median [range]) (1.23 [0.27-3.40]) and NASH patients (1.29 [0.77-3.22]) compared with controls (3.14 [2.20-3.73]); both p < 0.001) but it was not different between SS and NASH. PC was lower and PE higher in the liver of SS patients compared with controls, whereas in NASH patients only PE was higher. The PC/PE ratio in erythrocytes was also lower in SS and NASH patients compared with controls because of lower PC in both patient groups. PE in erythrocytes was not different among the groups. In conclusion, NAFLD patients have a lower PC/PE ratio in the liver and erythrocytes than do healthy controls, which may play a role in the pathogenesis. The underlying mechanisms require further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease*
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines*


  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines