Division of Gastroenterology, Union Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China.
Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.
Department of Medicine, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA.
Intestinal bacteria contribute to the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Recently developed microbial profiling techniques are beginning to shed light on the nature of the changes in the gut microbiota that accompany NAFLD and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In this review, we summarize the role of gut microbiota in the development of NAFLD, NASH, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We highlight the mechanisms by which gut microbiota contribute to NAFLD/NASH, including through alterations in gut epithelial permeability, choline metabolism, endogenous alcohol production, release of inflammatory cytokines, regulation of hepatic Toll-like receptor (TLR), and bile acid metabolism. In addition, we analyze possible mechanisms for enhanced hepatic carcinogenesis, including alterations in bile acid metabolism, release of inflammatory cytokines, and expression of TLR-4. Finally, we describe therapeutic approaches for NAFLD/NASH and preventive strategies for HCC involving modulation of the intestinal microbiota or affected host pathways. Although recent studies have provided useful information, large-scale prospective studies are required to better characterize the intestinal microbiota and metabolome, in order to demonstrate a causative role for changes in the gut microbiota in the etiology of NAFLD/NASH, to identify new therapeutic strategies for NAFLD/NASH, and to develop more effective methods of preventing HCC.