The biological clock: A pivotal hub in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease pathogenesis

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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most frequent hepatic pathology in the Western world and may evolve into steatohepatitis (NASH), increasing the risk of cirrhosis, portal hypertension and hepatocellular carcinoma. NAFLD derives from the accumulation of hepatic fat due to discrepant free fatty acid metabolism. Other factors contributing to this are deranged nutrients and bile acids fluxes as well as alterations in nuclear receptors, hormones, and intermediary metabolites, which impact on signaling pathways involved in metabolism and inflammation. Autophagy and host gut-microbiota interplay are also relevant to NAFLD pathogenesis. Notably, liver metabolic pathways and bile acid synthesis as well as autophagic and immune/inflammatory processes all show circadian patterns driven by the biological clock. Gut microbiota impacts on the biological clock, at the same time as the appropriate timing of metabolic fluxes, hormone secretion, bile acid turnover, autophagy and inflammation with behavioural cycles of fasting/feeding and sleeping/waking is required to circumvent hepatosteatosis, indicating significant interactions of the gut and circadian processes in NAFLD pathophysiology. Several time-related factors and processes interplay in NAFLD development, with the biological clock proposed to act as a network level hub. Deranged physiological rhythms (chronodisruption) may also play a role in liver steatosis pathogenesis. The current article reviews how the circadian clock circuitry intimately interacts with several mechanisms involved in the onset of hepatosteatosis and its progression to NASH, thereby contributing to the global NAFLD epidemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number193
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Chronodisruption
  • Circadian
  • Clock gene
  • Metabolism
  • Rhythm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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