Hypoxia-Inducible Factors as Key Players in the Pathogenesis of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its more severe form non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are a major public health concern with high and increasing global prevalence, and a significant disease burden owing to its progression to more severe forms of liver disease and the associated risk of cardiovascular disease. Treatment options, however, remain scarce, and a better understanding of the pathological and physiological processes involved could enable the development of new therapeutic strategies. One process implicated in the pathology of NAFLD and NASH is cellular oxygen sensing, coordinated largely by the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) family of transcription factors. Activation of HIFs has been demonstrated in patients and mouse models of NAFLD and NASH and studies of activation and inhibition of HIFs using pharmacological and genetic tools point toward important roles for these transcription factors in modulating central aspects of the disease. HIFs appear to act in several cell types in the liver to worsen steatosis, inflammation, and fibrosis, but may nevertheless improve insulin sensitivity. Moreover, in liver and other tissues, HIF activation alters mitochondrial respiratory function and metabolism, having an impact on energetic and redox homeostasis. This article aims to provide an overview of current understanding of the roles of HIFs in NAFLD, highlighting areas where further research is needed.