Bile acids profile, histopathological indices and genetic variants for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease progression

Metabolism. 2021 Mar:116:154457. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2020.154457. Epub 2020 Dec 1.


Objective: Metabolomic studies suggest plasma levels of bile acids (BAs) are elevated amongst subjects with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) compared to healthy controls. However, it remains unclear whether or not specific BAs are associated with the clinically relevant transition from nonalcoholic fatty liver (i.e. simple steatosis) to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), or enhanced progression of hepatic fibrosis, or genetic determinants of NAFLD/NASH.

Methods: Among sequential subjects (n=102) undergoing diagnostic liver biopsy, we examined the associations of a broad panel of BAs with distinct histopathological features of NAFLD, the presence of NASH, and their associations with genetic variants linked to NAFLD and NASH.

Results: Plasma BA alterations were observed through the entire spectrum of NAFLD, with several glycine conjugated forms of the BAs demonstrating significant associations with higher grades of inflammation and fibrosis. Plasma 7-Keto-DCA levels showed the strongest associations with advanced stages of hepatic fibrosis [odds ratio(95% confidence interval)], 4.2(1.2-16.4), NASH 24.5(4.1-473), and ballooning 18.7(4.8-91.9). Plasma 7-Keto-LCA levels were associated with NASH 9.4(1.5-185) and ballooning 5.9(1.4-28.8). Genetic variants at several NAFLD/NASH loci were nominally associated with increased levels of 7-Keto- and glycine-conjugated forms of BAs, and the NAFLD risk allele at the TRIB1 locus showed strong tendency toward increased plasma levels of GCA (p=0.02) and GUDCA (p=0.009).

Conclusions: Circulating bile acid levels are associated with histopathological and genetic determinants of the transition from simple hepatic steatosis into NASH. Further studies exploring the potential involvement of bile acid metabolism in the development and/or progression of distinct histopathological features of NASH are warranted.

Keywords: Bile acids; Fibrosis; Metabolomics; NAFLD; NASH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bile Acids and Salts / blood*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolome / physiology
  • Metabolomics
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / blood*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology*


  • Bile Acids and Salts