Circulating microRNA expression and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in adolescents with severe obesity

Yi Jie Li, Brittney O. Baumert, Jesse A. Goodrich, Jing Xuan He, Yin Qi Zhao, Max T. Aung, Hong Xu Wang, Sandrah P. Eckel, Rob McConnell, David V. Conti, Lida Chatzi, Nikos Stratakis, Hao Tian Wu, Andrea A. Baccarelli, Douglas I. Walker, Damaskini Valvi, Michele A.La Merrill, Justin R. Ryder, Thomas H. Inge, Todd JenkinsStavra A. Xanthakos, Stephanie Sisley, Rohit Kohli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common chronic liver diseases in children and adolescents. NAFLD ranges in severity from isolated hepatic steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), wherein hepatocellular inflammation and/or fibrosis coexist with steatosis. Circulating microRNA (miRNA) levels have been suggested to be altered in NAFLD, but the extent to which miRNA are related to NAFLD features remains unknown. This analysis tested the hypothesis that plasma miRNAs are significantly associated with histological features of NAFLD in adolescents. AIM To investigate the relationship between plasma miRNA expression and NAFLD features among adolescents with NAFLD. METHODS This study included 81 adolescents diagnosed with NAFLD and 54 adolescents without NAFLD from the Teen- Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery study. Intra-operative core liver biopsies were collected from participants and used to characterize histological features of NAFLD. Plasma samples were collected during surgery for miRNA profiling. A total of 843 plasma miRNAs were profiled using the HTG EdgeSeq platform. We examined associations of plasma miRNAs and NAFLD features using logistic regression after adjusting for age, sex, race, and other key covariates. Ingenuity Pathways Analysis was used to identify biological functions of miRNAs that were associated with multiple histological features of NAFLD. RESULTS We identified 16 upregulated plasma miRNAs, including miR-193a-5p and miR-193b-5p, and 22 downregulated plasma miRNAs, including miR-1282 and miR-6734-5p, in adolescents with NAFLD. Moreover, 52, 16, 15, and 9 plasma miRNAs were associated with NASH, fibrosis, ballooning degeneration, and lobular inflammation, respectively. Collectively, 16 miRNAs were associated with two or more histological features of NAFLD. Among those miRNAs, miR-411-5p was downregulated in NASH, ballooning, and fibrosis, while miR-122-5p, miR-1343- 5p, miR-193a-5p, miR-193b-5p, and miR-7845-5p were consistently and positively associated with all histological features of NAFLD. Pathway analysis revealed that most common pathways of miRNAs associated with multiple NAFLD features have been associated with tumor progression, while we also identified linkages between miR-122- 5p and hepatitis C virus and between miR-199b-5p and chronic hepatitis B. CONCLUSION Plasma miRNAs were associated with NAFLD features in adolescent with severe obesity. Larger studies with more heterogeneous NAFLD phenotypes are needed to evaluate miRNAs as potential biomarkers of NAFLD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-345
Number of pages14
JournalWorld Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 28 Jan 2024


  • Ballooning degeneration
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Lobular inflammation
  • MicroRNA
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease


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