Genome-scale study reveals reduced metabolic adaptability in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Nat Commun. 2016 Feb 3:7:8994. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9994.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a major risk factor leading to chronic liver disease and type 2 diabetes. Here we chart liver metabolic activity and functionality in NAFLD by integrating global transcriptomic data, from human liver biopsies, and metabolic flux data, measured across the human splanchnic vascular bed, within a genome-scale model of human metabolism. We show that an increased amount of liver fat induces mitochondrial metabolism, lipolysis, glyceroneogenesis and a switch from lactate to glycerol as substrate for gluconeogenesis, indicating an intricate balance of exacerbated opposite metabolic processes in glycemic regulation. These changes were associated with reduced metabolic adaptability on a network level in the sense that liver fat accumulation puts increasing demands on the liver to adaptively regulate metabolic responses to maintain basic liver functions. We propose that failure to meet excessive metabolic challenges coupled with reduced metabolic adaptability may lead to a vicious pathogenic cycle leading to the co-morbidities of NAFLD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Gluconeogenesis
  • Glycerol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Lipolysis
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Flux Analysis
  • Metabolome
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondria, Liver / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics*
  • Splanchnic Circulation


  • Blood Glucose
  • Lactic Acid
  • Glycerol