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Alterations in the Intestinal Microbiome Linked to Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Children, Study Finds

Milwaukee, July 1, 2019 – New research from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), in collaboration with investigators at University of California San Diego and Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, suggests that the intestinal microbiome holds important clues as to why some children develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In an analysis of fecal microbiomes of children with and without NAFLD, researchers found an association between the prevalence and severity of the disease and alterations in the intestinal microbiome.

NAFLD, an abnormal storage of fat inside the cells of the liver, is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in American children, but modern medical science lacks a comprehensive understanding of why certain children develop the disease. Although obesity is a risk factor for NAFLD, most children with obesity do not develop it. Among children with NAFLD, some have a more severe form known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), characterized by inflammation and liver cell injury.

Published in the journal Gastroenterology, the study evaluated 87 children with biopsy-proven NAFLD and 37 children with obesity but without NAFLD. The evaluation included fecal samples to characterize the fecal bacteria and their gene content. Results showed that children with NAFLD had a less diverse but more variable intestinal microbiome than those without NAFLD. In children with NASH, these trends were even more extreme. Furthermore, NAFLD and its severity were associated with a greater abundance of genes encoding inflammatory bacterial products.

“This study shows that alterations in the intestinal microbiome might contribute to pathogenesis of NAFLD and also may be useful as markers of disease or disease severity,” said Nita H. Salzman, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and microbiology & immunology and director of the Center for Microbiome Research at MCW, co-senior author of the study. “Further studies will be needed to determine whether manipulation of the intestinal microbiome could be used therapeutically to prevent or treat NAFLD”

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