Hyperinsulinemia is believed to play a key role in the pathogenesis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and associated cardiovascular risk. However, the relative contribution of insulin clearance to hyperinsulinemia and its relationship to liver histology have not been carefully evaluated before. To examine this, we enrolled 190 patients (32 without nonalcoholic fatty liver disease [NAFLD], 36 with simple steatosis [SS], and 122 with biopsy-proven NASH). Insulin secretion and hepatic insulin clearance were estimated by means of an oral glucose tolerance test, whereas peripheral insulin sensitivity and whole-body insulin clearance were measured during a euglycemic insulin clamp. A liver biopsy was performed to assess histology (grade/stage). Patients with NASH had similar hepatic insulin sensitivity, compared to patients with SS, but more severe adipose tissue insulin resistance and worse hyperinsulinemia. Patients with SS and NASH had a similar ∼30% reduction (P<0.01) in hepatic insulin clearance, when compared to patients without NAFLD. Reduced hepatic insulin clearance was not associated with severity of inflammation, ballooning, and fibrosis. In contrast, worse histological inflammation and ballooning (but not steatosis or fibrosis) were associated with a progressive reduction in whole-body insulin clearance (P<0.001 for trend). There was no significant difference in insulin secretion between patients with SS versus NASH.
Conclusion: Decreased hepatic insulin clearance develops with a mild increase in liver fat (LFAT) accumulation. It appears to be largely driven by hepatic steatosis, whereas steatohepatitis is more closely associated with reduced whole-body insulin clearance. Hyperinsulinemia in NAFLD correlated strongly with impaired insulin clearance, but not with insulin secretion. Strategies that reduce LFAT and improve insulin clearance hold the potential to revert the unfavorable effects of hyperinsulinemia in these patients.
© 2014 by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.