Molecular Mechanism Contributing to Malnutrition and Sarcopenia in Patients with Liver Cirrhosis

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jul 28;21(15):5357. doi: 10.3390/ijms21155357.


Liver cirrhosis is frequently accompanied by disease-related malnutrition (DRM) and sarcopenia, defined as loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. DRM and sarcopenia often coexist in cirrhotic patients and are associated with increased morbidity and mortality. The clinical manifestation of both comorbidities are triggered by multifactorial mechanisms including reduced nutrient and energy intake caused by dietary restrictions, anorexia, neuroendocrine deregulation, olfactory and gustatory deficits. Maldigestion and malabsorption due to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, pancreatic insufficiency or cholestasis may also contribute to DRM and sarcopenia. Decreased protein synthesis and increased protein degradation is the cornerstone mechanism to muscle loss, among others mediated by disease- and inflammation-mediated metabolic changes, hyperammonemia, increased myostatin and reduced human growth hormone. The concise pathophysiological mechanisms and interactions of DRM and sarcopenia in liver cirrhosis are not completely understood. Furthermore, most knowledge in this field are based on experimental models, but only few data in humans exist. This review summarizes known and proposed molecular mechanisms contributing to malnutrition and sarcopenia in liver cirrhosis and highlights remaining knowledge gaps. Since, in the prevention and treatment of DRM and sarcopenia in cirrhotic patients, more research is needed to identify potential biomarkers for diagnosis and development of targeted therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: cirrhosis; growth hormone; hyperammonemia; hypermetabolism; malnutrition; myostatin; protein turnover; sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis* / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis* / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis* / pathology
  • Malnutrition* / etiology
  • Malnutrition* / metabolism
  • Malnutrition* / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / pathology
  • Sarcopenia* / etiology
  • Sarcopenia* / metabolism
  • Sarcopenia* / pathology