Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) covers a spectrum of liver disease from simple steatosis to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and cirrhosis. NAFLD is commonly associated with features of the metabolic/insulin resistance syndrome ('Metabolic/Obese NAFLD') and may therefore predict type 2 diabetes (T2DM). For this review, we searched for prospective studies examining whether NAFLD predicts T2DM, and if so, whether this occurs independently of factors such as age and obesity. These studies included NAFLD diagnosed by ultrasonography (n = 6) or liver enzymes (n = 14). All ultrasonography studies found NAFLD to predict the risk of T2DM independently of age, and in 4 out of 6 studies NAFLD was also a predictor independently of BMI. NAFLD was a predictor of T2DM in all 14 studies where NAFLD was diagnosed by liver enzymes. In 12 of these studies, ALT or AST or GGT were significant predictors of T2DM risk, independently of age and BMI. NAFLD, however, is heterogeneous and may also be caused by common genetic variants. The I148M variant in PNPLA3 and the E167K variant in TM6SF2 are both associated with increased liver fat content, but not features of the metabolic/insulin resistance syndrome. These genetic forms of NAFLD predict NASH and cirrhosis but not T2DM. Taken together these data imply that 'Metabolic/Obese NAFLD' predicts T2DM independently of age and obesity and support the role of hepatic insulin resistance in the pathogenesis of this disease.
Keywords: PNPLA3; TM6SF2; glucose; insulin; liver function tests; ultrasound.
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