Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Also a Disease of the Brain? A Systematic Review of the Preclinical Evidence

Neurochem Res. 2022 Mar 1. doi: 10.1007/s11064-022-03551-x. Online ahead of print.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) currently affects 25% of the global adult population. Cognitive impairment is a recently recognised comorbidity impeding memory, attention, and concentration, affecting the patients' activities of daily living and reducing their quality of life. This systematic review provides an overview of the evidence for, and potential pathophysiological mechanisms behind brain dysfunction at a neurobiological level, in preclinical NAFLD. We performed a systematic literature search for animal models of NAFLD studying intracerebral conditions using PubMed, Embase and Scopus. We included studies that reported data on neurobiology in rodent and pig models with evidence of steatosis or steatohepatitis assessed by liver histology. 534 unique studies were identified, and 30 studies met the selection criteria, and were included. Findings of neurobiological changes were divided into five key areas: (1) neuroinflammation, (2) neurodegeneration, (3) neurotransmitter alterations, (4) oxidative stress, and (5) changes in proteins and synaptic density. Despite significant heterogeneity in the study designs, all but one study of preclinical NAFLD reported changes in one or more of the above key areas when compared to control animals. In conclusion, this systematic review supports an association between all stages of NAFLD (from simple steatosis to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)) and neurobiological changes in preclinical models.

Keywords: Neurodegeneration; Neuroinflammation; Neurotransmitters; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Oxidative stress; Synaptic density.