1Department of Nutrition and Movement Sciences, NUTRIM School of Nutrition and Translational Research in Metabolism, Maastricht University Medical Center, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is characterized by hepatic free cholesterol accumulation. In addition, microRNAs (miRNAs) might be involved in NAFLD development. Therefore, we systematically reviewed the literature to examine the link between miRNAs and cholesterol metabolism in NAFLD. Nineteen studies were retrieved by a systematic search in September 2022. From these papers, we evaluated associations between 13 miRNAs with NAFLD and cholesterol metabolism. Additionally, their diagnostic potential was examined. Four miRNAs (miR122, 34a, 132 and 21) were associated with cholesterol metabolism and markers for NAFLD. MiR122 was upregulated in serum of NAFLD patients, increased with disease severity and correlated with HDL-C, TAG, VLDL-C, AST, ALT, ALP, lobular inflammation, hepatocellular ballooning and NAFLD score. Serum and hepatic levels also correlated. Serum and hepatic miR34a levels were increased in NAFLD, and correlated with VLDL-C and TAG. Serum miR379 was also higher in NAFLD, especially in early stages, while miR21 gave ambiguous results. The diagnostic properties of these miRNAs were comparable to those of existing biomarkers. However, serum miR122 levels appeared to be elevated before increases in ALT and AST were evident. In conclusion, miR122, miR34a, miR21 and miR132 may play a role in the development of NAFLD via effects on cholesterol metabolism. Furthermore, it needs to be explored if miRNAs 122, 34a and 379 could be used as part of a panel in addition to established biomarkers in early detection of NAFLD.