Serum aminotransferases in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are a signature of liver metabolic perturbations at the amino acid and Krebs cycle level

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb;103(2):422-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.118695. Epub 2016 Jan 20.


Background: Extensive epidemiologic studies have shown that cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome (MetS) are associated with serum concentrations of liver enzymes; however, fundamental characteristics of this relation are currently unknown.

Objective: We aimed to explore the role of liver aminotransferases in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and MetS.

Design: Liver gene- and protein-expression changes of aminotransferases, including their corresponding isoforms, were evaluated in a case-control study of patients with NAFLD (n = 42), which was proven through a biopsy (control subjects: n = 10). We also carried out a serum targeted metabolite profiling to the glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, and Krebs cycle (n = 48) and an exploration by the next-generation sequencing of aminotransferase genes (n = 96). An in vitro study to provide a biological explanation of changes in the transcriptional level and enzymatic activity of aminotransferases was included.

Results: Fatty liver was associated with a deregulated liver expression of aminotransferases, which was unrelated to the disease severity. Metabolite profiling showed that serum aminotransferase concentrations are a signature of liver metabolic perturbations, particularly at the amino acid metabolism and Krebs cycle level. A significant and positive association between systolic hypertension and liver expression levels of glutamic-oxaloacetic transaminase 2 (GOT2) messenger RNA (Spearman R = 0.42, P = 0.03) was observed. The rs6993 located in the 3' untranslated region of the GOT2 locus was significantly associated with features of the MetS, including arterial hypertension [P = 0.028; OR: 2.285 (95% CI: 1.024, 5.09); adjusted by NAFLD severity] and plasma lipid concentrations.

Conclusions: In the context of an abnormal hepatic triglyceride accumulation, circulating aminotransferases rise as a consequence of the need for increased reactions of transamination to cope with the liver metabolic derangement that is associated with greater gluconeogenesis and insulin resistance. Hence, to maintain homeostasis, the liver upregulates these enzymes, leading to changes in the amounts of amino acids released into the circulation.

Keywords: fatty liver; gene expression; liver injury; metabolomics; transaminases.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Alanine Transaminase / genetics
  • Alanine Transaminase / metabolism*
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Cytoplasmic / blood
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Cytoplasmic / genetics
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Cytoplasmic / metabolism*
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Mitochondrial / blood
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Mitochondrial / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Enzyme Induction*
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Female
  • Gluconeogenesis*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Isoenzymes / blood
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / genetics
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Metabolic Syndrome / pathology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / blood
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Amino Acids
  • Biomarkers
  • Isoenzymes
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Cytoplasmic
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase, Mitochondrial
  • Alanine Transaminase