Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) from pathogenesis to treatment concepts in humans

Mol Metab. 2021 Aug:50:101122. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2020.101122. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


Background: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) comprises hepatic alterations with increased lipid accumulation (steatosis) without or with inflammation (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH) and/or fibrosis in the absence of other causes of liver disease. NAFLD is developing as a burgeoning health challenge, mainly due to the worldwide obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Scope of review: This review summarizes the knowledge on the pathogenesis underlying NAFLD by focusing on studies in humans and on hypercaloric nutrition, including effects of saturated fat and fructose, as well as adipose tissue dysfunction, leading to hepatic lipotoxicity, abnormal mitochondrial function, and oxidative stress, and highlights intestinal dysbiosis. These mechanisms are discussed in the context of current treatments targeting metabolic pathways and the results of related clinical trials.

Major conclusions: Recent studies have provided evidence that certain conditions, for example, the severe insulin-resistant diabetes (SIRD) subgroup (cluster) and the presence of an increasing number of gene variants, seem to predispose for excessive risk of NAFLD and its accelerated progression. Recent clinical trials have been frequently unsuccessful in halting or preventing NAFLD progression, perhaps partly due to including unselected cohorts in later stages of NAFLD. On the basis of this literature review, this study proposed screening in individuals with the highest genetic or acquired risk of disease progression, for example, the SIRD subgroup, and developing treatment concepts targeting the earliest pathophysiolgical alterations, namely, adipocyte dysfunction and insulin resistance.

Keywords: Clinical trials; Fatty liver; Fibrosis; Inflammation; Insulin resistance; Lipotoxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Disease Progression
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / drug therapy
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Fatty Acids