Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is marked by accumulation of fat in liver cells with accompanying inflammation and variable degrees of cell injury and fibrosis. When cell injury and fibrosis are present, the disease has a potential to progress and is referred to as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, morbidity and mortality. The etiology of NASH is not clear, nor is there an approved treatment modality for it. Our focus on NAFLD is three-fold: first, we aim to identify and refine effective treatments for the disorder. Secondly, we aim to identify and characterize key genes that play a role in the pathogenesis of NAFLD through the use of genetic studies and cell- or animal models. Our third focus is on the clinical interaction between fat accumulation in the liver and other diseases or disorders Starting in 2002, we conducted a series of clinical research studies in NASH. An initial study focused on pioglitazone, an insulin-sensitizing agent that is used widely in diabetes and in our study demonstrated significant improvement of the liver disease after one year of treatment. We also performed a prospective, open-labeled study using metformin to treat NASH. We were able to demonstrate improvement of liver disease in 30% of patients but this seemed to be secondary to metformin-induced weight loss. Vitamin E has been shown in a randomized placebo-controlled trial to be an effective therapy for NASH. Curiously, treatment with vitamin E resulted not only in a decrease in injury (thought to reflect vitamin Es antioxidant effect) but was also associated with a decrease in liver fat, through an unknown mechanism. Furthermore, the optimal dose of vitamin E to treat NASH is currently unknown. We are currently conducting a clinical trial to determine the mechanism of action of vitamin E and its optimal dose. After a period of intensive lifestyle intervention, patients undergo extensive evaluation, including imaging, metabolic phenotyping, and liver and adipose tissue sampling, and then are randomized to one of three vitamin E doses. A repeat evaluation is performed at week 4 of treatment and again, after 24 weeks. This study is currently enrolling patients. As NAFLD is intricately related to food intake and energy metabolism, we are undertaking clinical trials to evaluate the handling and fate of nutrients by the fatty liver. We are using the BreathID real-time breath test device in combination with a labeled orally-delivered fatty acid to study the rates of fatty acid oxidation in subjects with NAFLD and controls. Similarly, we are utilizing a metabolomic approach to study the response of NAFLD subjects to a standardized meal challenge. Genome wide association (GWA) studies identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are associated with increased hepatic fat or elevated liver enzymes, presumably reflecting nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We initiated a study to investigate whether these SNPs are associated with histological severity in a large cohort of NAFLD patients. 1117 (894 adults/223 children) individuals enrolled in NASH-Clinical Research Network and National Institutes of Health Clinical Center studies with histologically-confirmed NAFLD were genotyped for SNPs that are associated with hepatic fat or liver enzymes in GWA studies. We confirmed the association of the rs738409G allele in the PNPLA3 gene with steatosis and were first to describe its association with histological severity. In pediatric patients, the high-risk rs738409G allele was associated with an earlier presentation of disease. We also described a hitherto unknown association between SNPs at a chromosome 10 locus and the severity of NASH fibrosis. Similarly, we demonstrated associations of SNPs near or in the genes for hydroxysteroid (17) dehydrogenase 13 (HSD17B13), RAR-related orphan receptor (RORA) and protein phosphatase 1, regulatory subunit 3B (PPP1R3B) with histological features of NAFLD, after adjustment for age, gender and BMI. In-depth genotyping near RORA, a nuclear receptor involved in control of circadian rhythm and metabolic functions, showed that SNPs that are associated with NAFLD are located in the putative promoter region of 2 of the 4 splice variants (variants 2 and 3) as opposed to SNPs upstream of other variants, suggesting that alternation in the relative expression of the different isoforms affects fat accumulation in the liver. RORA knock-out in cell lines did not affect the degree of hepatic lipid accumulation under standard conditions. However, when cells were overloaded with nutrients (high glucose, high-fatty acids medium), the amount of intracellular fat significantly decreased with knock-down, predominantly through a decrease in the average size of the lipid droplets. A similar effect was seen in adipocytes. We have further undertaken studies in a mouse model of diet-induced NAFLD, where we have shown that knock-down of RORA expression in the liver diminishes hepatic fat accumulation, all supporting the role of RORA as an important regulator of excess hepatic fat storage. We are currently undertaking an effort to develop a liver-specific RORA knock-out strain to allow for more detailed characterization. Little is known about HSD17B13. We found it to be predominantly expressed in the liver and to colocalize with lipid droplets, but its substrate and physiological roles are unknown. In-depth genotyping of the gene region demonstrated associations of coding and splice-site SNPs in the gene with NAFLD, confirming a possible role for this enzyme in the pathogenesis of NASH. We identified a putative role for HSD17B13 as a key enzyme in retinoid metabolism and determined that genetic variants that are associated with NAFLD are also essential to its enzymatic activity. We are currently studying the effects of HSD17B13 in a knock-out animal model. Future studies in NASH will be directed at other means of improving this liver disease and understanding its pathophysiology. We are developing metabolic and physiologic studies of patients with NAFLD and/or metabolic syndrome and continue to study the functional significance of genetic variants

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Thanda Han, Ma Ai; Altayar, Osama; Hamdeh, Shadi et al. (2018) Rates and Factors Associated With Placebo Response in Trials of Pharmacotherapies for Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol :
Tana, Michele M; Alao, Hawwa; Morris, Nevitt et al. (2018) Fatigued Patients with Chronic Liver Disease Have Subtle Aberrations of Sleep, Melatonin and Cortisol Circadian Rhythms. Fatigue 6:5-19
Rotman, Yaron; Sanyal, Arun J (2018) Pioglitazone for the treatment of NASH in patients with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes mellitus-authors' response. Gut 67:1372
Ma, Yanling; Belyaeva, Olga V; Brown, Philip M et al. (2018) HSD17B13 is a Hepatic Retinol Dehydrogenase Associated with Histological Features of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Hepatology :
Brown, Philip M; Rotman, Yaron (2017) What if Prometheus had steatosis? Potential use of FGF19 to promote regeneration of the fatty liver. Gut :
Rotman, Yaron; Sanyal, Arun J (2017) Current and upcoming pharmacotherapy for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Gut 66:180-190
Takyar, Varun; Nath, Anand; Beri, Andrea et al. (2017) How healthy are the ""Healthy volunteers""? Penetrance of NAFLD in the biomedical research volunteer pool. Hepatology 66:825-833
Guber, Robert D; Takyar, Varun; Kokkinis, Angela et al. (2017) Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy. Neurology 89:2481-2490
Rotman, Yaron; Neuschwander-Tetri, Brent A (2017) Liver fat accumulation as a barometer of insulin responsiveness again points to adipose tissue as the culprit. Hepatology 65:1088-1090
Shimony, Maya K; Schliep, Karen C; Schisterman, Enrique F et al. (2016) The relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and liver enzymes among healthy premenopausal women: a prospective cohort study. Eur J Nutr 55:569-576

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