Genetic and epigenetic factors determining NAFLD risk

Wenke Jonas, Annette Schürmann


Hepatic steatosis is a common chronic liver disease that can progress into more severe stages of NAFLD or promote the development of life-threatening secondary diseases for some of those affected. These include the liver itself (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH; fibrosis and cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma) or other organs such as the vessels and the heart (cardiovascular disease) or the islets of Langerhans (type 2 diabetes). In addition to elevated caloric intake and a sedentary lifestyle, genetic and epigenetic predisposition contribute to the development of NAFLD and the secondary diseases.

Scope of review

We present data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and functional studies in rodents which describe polymorphisms identified in genes relevant for the disease as well as changes caused by altered DNA methylation and gene regulation via specific miRNAs. The review also provides information on the current status of the use of genetic and epigenetic factors as risk markers.

Major conclusion

With our overview we provide an insight into the genetic and epigenetic landscape of NAFLD and argue about the applicability of currently defined risk scores for risk stratification and conclude that further efforts are needed to make the scores more usable and meaningful.