Introduction: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), considered the leading cause of chronic liver disease in children, can often progress from non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). It is clear that obesity is one of the main risk factors involved in NAFLD pathogenesis, even if specific mechanisms have yet to be elucidated. We investigated the distribution of intestinal bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the stools of four groups of children: obese, obese with NAFL, obese with NASH, and healthy, age-matched controls (CTRLs).
Material and methods: Sixty-one obese, NAFL and NASH children and 54 CTRLs were enrolled in the study. Anthropometric and metabolic parameters were measured for all subjects. All children with suspected NASH underwent liver biopsy. Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli were analysed in children's faecal samples, during a broader, 16S rRNA-based pyrosequencing analysis of the gut microbiome.
Results: Three Bifidobacterium spp. (Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium adolescentis) and five Lactobacillus spp. (L. zeae, L. vaginalis, L. brevis, L. ruminis, and L. mucosae) frequently recurred in metagenomic analyses. Lactobacillus spp. increased in NAFL, NASH, or obese children compared to CTRLs. Particularly, L. mucosae was significantly higher in obese (p = 0.02426), NAFLD (p = 0.01313) and NASH (p = 0.01079) than in CTRLs. In contrast, Bifidobacterium spp. were more abundant in CTRLs, suggesting a protective and beneficial role of these microorganisms against the aforementioned diseases.
Conclusions: Bifidobacteria seem to have a protective role against the development of NAFLD and obesity, highlighting their possible use in developing novel, targeted and effective probiotics.