Researchers Uncover Shared Genes Among NAFLD, Hypertension

Using a systems biology approach, the researchers discovered 64 genes shared between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hypertension, considered to be core genes for the 2 conditions.

Researchers suggested non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hypertension could be considered a systemic disease after finding the 2 conditions have common disease pathogenic mechanisms.

Through a systems biology approach, the researchers discovered 64 genes shared between NAFLD and hypertension that were considered core genes for the 2 conditions. Among these genes was Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 1 Family Member A1 (ALDH1A1), which was identified as a mediator for liver physiology and the interaction between NAFLD and hypertension. According to the researchers, this gene serves as a potential treatment target.

Notably, the group revealed treatments for cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, inflammatory diseases, and depression could also be leveraged for concurrent hypertension and NAFLD.

The study findings follow previous research which indicated a higher prevalence of hypertension in patients with NAFLD or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) compared with the general population (39.3% and 68% vs 29%, respectively). In one meta-analysis, data revealed an odds ratio of 1.24 for hypertension in patients with NAFLD when compared with the general population.

“According to another meta-analysis published in 2016, the comorbidity of NAFLD and hypertension was reported in the majority of the included studies, while the comorbidity of NASH and hypertension were reported in only 4 studies,” researchers wrote.

They continued, “the pooled overall prevalence of hypertension estimated in NAFLD and NASH patients was 39.34% and 67.97%. Another meta-analysis containing 411 biopsy-proven NAFLD patients reported an odds ratio of 1.94 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 3.74) for liver progressive fibrosis in people with hypertension compared with those without hypertension.”

In the current analysis, researchers found over 20 studies that drew a connection between hypertension and NAFLD, indicating that hypertension may independently contribute to NAFLD or that NAFLD is a risk factor for hypertension.

According to authors, the evidence collected from the studies points to a link between blood pressure regulation and metabolic and histologic conditions in the liver, as well as a “potential reciprocal causation” of the 2 conditions.

“We identified that leukocytes had a strong association with NAFLD, NAFLD-related phenotypes and hypertension, which could be considered as an important immune cell type connecting hypertension and NAFLD,” commented the researchers. “Pathologically, the progression of NAFLD in steatohepatitis was characterized by hepatic leukocyte accumulation, which means that leukocytes were recruited from the blood and relocated at the liver tissue.”

Reference: Ma C, Yan K, Wang Z, et al. The association between hypertension and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): literature evidence and systems biology analysis. Bioengineered. Published online June 6, 2021. doi:10.1080/21655979.2021.1933302