Targeted metabolomics reveals plasma short-chain fatty acids are associated with metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease

BMC Gastroenterol. 2024 Jan 23;24(1):43. doi: 10.1186/s12876-024-03129-7.


Background: Alterations in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) may reflect disturbances in the gut microbiota and have been linked to metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD). We assessed plasma SCFAs in patients with MASLD and healthy controls.

Methods: Fasting venous blood samples were collected and eight SCFAs were measured using gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS). Relative between-group differences in circulating SCFA concentrations were estimated by linear regression, and the relation between SCFA concentrations, MASLD, and fibrosis severity was investigated using logistic regression.

Results: The study includes 100 patients with MASLD (51% with mild/no fibrosis and 49% with significant fibrosis) and 50 healthy controls. Compared with healthy controls, MASLD patients had higher plasma concentrations of propionate (21.8%, 95% CI 3.33 to 43.6, p = 0.02), formate (21.9%, 95% CI 6.99 to 38.9, p = 0.003), valerate (35.7%, 95% CI 4.53 to 76.2, p = 0.02), and α-methylbutyrate (16.2%, 95% CI 3.66 to 30.3, p = 0.01) but lower plasma acetate concentrations (- 30.0%, 95% CI - 40.4 to - 17.9, p < 0.001). Among patients with MASLD, significant fibrosis was positively associated with propionate (p = 0.02), butyrate (p = 0.03), valerate (p = 0.03), and α-methylbutyrate (p = 0.02). Six of eight SCFAs were significantly increased in F4 fibrosis.

Conclusions: In the present study, SCFAs were associated with MASLD and fibrosis severity, but further research is needed to elucidate the potential mechanisms underlying our observations and to assess the possible benefit of therapies modulating gut microbiota.

Keywords: Acetate; Butyrate; Circulating SCFA; Cirrhosis; Metabolome; Microbiome; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; Propionate; Targeted metabolomics.

MeSH terms

  • Butyrates*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Fatty Liver*
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases*
  • Propionates
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Valerates


  • 2-methylbutanoic acid
  • Propionates
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Valerates
  • Butyrates