Role of gut microbiota and oxidative stress in the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to hepatocarcinoma: Current and innovative therapeutic approaches

Antonella Borrelli, Patrizia Bonelli, Franca Maria Tuccillo, Ira D. Goldfine, Joseph L. Evans, Franco Maria Buonaguro, Aldo Mancini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) represents the most common chronic liver disease in industrialized countries. NAFLD progresses through the inflammatory phase of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) to fibrosis and cirrhosis, with some cases developing liver failure or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Liver biopsy remains the gold standard approach to a definitive diagnosis of NAFLD and the distinction between simple steatosis and NASH. The pathogenesis of NASH is still not clear. Several theories have been proposed ranging from the “Two Hit Theory” to the “Multiple Hit Theory”. However, the general consensus is that the gut microbiota, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial damage play key roles in the pathogenesis of NASH. The interaction between the gut epithelia and some commensal bacteria induces the rapid generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The main goal of any therapy addressing NASH is to reverse or prevent progression to liver fibrosis/cirrhosis. This problem represents the first “Achilles’ heel” of the new molecules being evaluated in most ongoing clinical trials. The second is the inability of these molecules to reach the mitochondria, the primary sites of energy production and ROS generation. Recently, a variety of non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatment approaches for NASH have been evaluated including vitamin E, the thiazolidinediones, and novel molecules related to NASH pathogenesis (including obeticholic acid and elafibranor). Recently, a new isoform of human manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) was isolated and obtained in a synthetic recombinant form designated rMnSOD. This protein has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant capable of mediating ROS dismutation, penetrating biological barriers via its uncleaved leader peptide, and reducing portal hypertension and fibrosis in rats affected by liver cirrhosis. Based on these distinctive characteristics, it can be hypothesized that this novel recombinant protein (rMnSOD) potentially represents a new and highly efficient adjuvant therapy to counteract the progression from NASH to HCC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-479
Number of pages13
JournalRedox Biology
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2018



  • Antioxidants
  • Drugs
  • Interventions
  • Manganese superoxide dismutase
  • Probiotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry

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