NAFLD and vitamin D: Evidence for intersection of microRNA-regulated pathways

Nutr Res Rev. 2021 Dec 9;1-20. doi: 10.1017/S095442242100038X. Online ahead of print.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease, worldwide. The molecular pathogenesis of NAFLD is complex, involving numerous signalling molecules, including microRNAs (miRNAs). Dysregulation of miRNA expression is associated with hepatic inflammation, fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Although miRNAs are also critical to the cellular response to vitamin D, mediating regulation of the vitamin D receptor and vitamin D's anti-cancer effects, the role of vitamin-D-regulated miRNAs in NAFLD pathogenesis has been relatively unexplored. Therefore, this review aims to critically assess the evidence for a potential subset of miRNAs that are both dysregulated in NAFLD and modulated by vitamin D. Comprehensive review of eighty-nine human studies identified twenty-five miRNAs found dysregulated in more than one NAFLD study. In contrast, only seventeen studies, including a protocol for a trial in NAFLD, had examined miRNAs in relation to vitamin D status, response to supplementation, or vitamin D in the context of the liver. This paper summarises these data and reviews the biological roles of six miRNAs (miR-21, miR-30, miR-34, miR-122, miR-146, miR-200) found dysregulated in multiple independent NAFLD studies. While modulation of miRNAs by vitamin D has been understudied, integration of the data suggests seven vitamin-D-modulated miRNAs (miR-27, miR-125, miR-155, miR-192, miR-223, miR-375, miR-378) potentially relevant to NAFLD pathogenesis. Our summary tables provide a significant resource to underpin future hypothesis-driven research, and we conclude that the measurement of serum and hepatic miRNAs in response to vitamin D supplementation in larger trials is warranted.

Keywords: MAFLD; NAFLD; miRNA; obesity; type 2 diabetes; vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review