Modulation of Insulin Resistance in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Hepatology. 2019 Aug;70(2):711-724. doi: 10.1002/hep.30429. Epub 2019 Jul 19.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has an estimated prevalence of 25% in the general population, and cirrhosis secondary to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is predicted to become the leading cause of liver transplantation, yet there is a lack of effective licensed treatments for these conditions. There is a close relationship between insulin resistance (IR) and NAFLD, with prevalence of NAFLD being 5-fold higher in patients with diabetes compared to those without. IR is implicated both in pathogenesis of NAFLD and in disease progression from steatosis to NASH. Thus, modulation of IR represents a potential strategy for NAFLD treatment. This review highlights key proposed mechanisms linking IR and NAFLD, such as changes in rates of adipose tissue lipolysis and de novo lipogenesis, impaired mitochondrial fatty acid β-oxidation (FAO), changes in fat distribution, alterations in the gut microbiome, and alterations in levels of adipokines and cytokines. Furthermore, this review will discuss the main pharmacological strategies used to treat IR in patients with NAFLD and their efficacy based on recently published experimental and clinical data. These include biguanides, glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor (GLP-1) agonists, dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR-γ/α/δ) agonists, sodium glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, and farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonists, with further novel treatments on the horizon. Ideally, treatment would improve IR, reduce cardiovascular risk, and produce demonstrable improvements in NASH histology-this is likely to be achieved with a combinatorial approach.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • PPAR gamma / physiology


  • PPAR gamma