Exposure to environmental contaminants is associated with altered hepatic lipid metabolism in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease


Background & aims: Recent experimental models and epidemiological studies suggest that specific environmental contaminants (ECs) contribute to the initiation and pathology of NAFLD. However, the underlying mechanisms linking EC exposure with NAFLD remain poorly understood and there is no data on their impact on the human liver metabolome. Herein, we hypothesized that exposure to ECs, particularly perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), impacts liver metabolism, specifically bile acid metabolism.

Methods: In a well-characterized human NAFLD cohort of 105 individuals, we investigated the effects of EC exposure on liver metabolism. We characterized the liver (via biopsy) and circulating metabolomes using four mass spectrometry-based analytical platforms, and measured PFAS and other ECs in serum. We subsequently compared these results with an exposure study in a PPARα-humanized mouse model. Results: PFAS exposure appears associated with perturbation of key hepatic metabolic pathways previously found altered in NAFLD, particularly as regards bile acid and lipid metabolism. We identified stronger associations between the liver metabolome, chemical exposure and NAFLD-associated clinical variables (liver fat content, HOMA-IR), in female subjects versus males. Specifically, we observed PFAS-associated up-regulation of bile acids, triacylglycerols and ceramides, and association between chemical exposure and dysregulated glucose metabolism in females. The murine exposure study further corroborated our findings, vis-à-vis a sex-specific association between PFAS exposure and NAFLD-associated lipid changes.

Conclusions: Females may be more sensitive to the harmful impacts of PFAS. Lipid-related changes subsequent to PFAS exposure may be secondary to the interplay between PFAS and bile acid metabolism.

Lay summary: There is increasing evidence that specific environmental contaminants such, as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), contribute to the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, it is poorly understood how these chemicals impact human liver metabolism. Here we show that human exposure to PFAS impacts liver metabolic processes associated with NAFLD, and does so in a sexually-dimorphic manner.

Authors: Partho Sen, Sami Qadri, Panu K Luukkonen, Oddny Ragnarsdottir, Aidan McGlinchey, Sirkku Jäntti, Anne Juuti, Johanna Arola, Jennifer J Schlezinger, Thomas F Webster, Matej Orešič, Hannele Yki-Järvinen, Tuulia Hyötyläinen
; Full Source: Journal of hepatology 2021 Oct 7;S0168-8278(21)02104-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2021.09.039.