Bone morphogenetic protein 2 is a new molecular target linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with potential value as non-invasive screening tool

Biomark Res. 2022 May 25;10(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s40364-022-00383-3.


Background: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the commonest cause of chronic liver disease worldwide, being non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) its most clinically relevant form. Given the risks associated with taking a liver biopsy, the design of accurate non-invasive methods to identify NASH patients is of upmost importance. BMP2 plays a key role in metabolic homeostasis; however, little is known about its involvement in NAFLD onset and progression. This study aimed to elucidate the impact of BMP2 in NAFLD pathophysiology.

Methods: Hepatic and circulating levels of BMP2 were quantified in serum and liver specimens from 115 biopsy-proven NAFLD patients and 75 subjects with histologically normal liver (NL). In addition, BMP2 content and release was determined in cultured human hepatocytes upon palmitic acid (PA) overload.

Results: We found that BMP2 expression was abnormally increased in livers from NAFLD patients than in subjects with NL and this was reflected in higher serum BMP2 levels. Notably, we observed that PA upregulated BMP2 expression and secretion by human hepatocytes. An algorithm based on serum BMP2 levels and clinically relevant variables to NAFLD showed an AUROC of 0.886 (95%CI, 0.83-0.94) to discriminate NASH. We used this algorithm to develop SAN (Screening Algorithm for NASH): a SAN < 0.2 implied a low risk and a SAN ≥ 0.6 indicated high risk of NASH diagnosis.

Conclusion: This proof-of-concept study shows BMP2 as a new molecular target linked to NAFLD and introduces SAN as a simple and efficient algorithm to screen individuals at risk for NASH.

Keywords: BMP2; Bone morphogenetic proteins; Hepatocytes; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Non-invasive diagnosis.