Molecular mechanisms and therapeutic targets in steatosis and steatohepatitis
Steatosis of the liver may arise from a variety of conditions, but the molecular basis for lipid droplet formation is poorly understood. Although a certain amount of lipid storage may even be hepatoprotective, prolonged lipid storage can result in an activation of inflammatory reactions and loss of metabolic competency. Apart from drug-induced steatosis, certain metabolic disorders associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and hyperlipidemia give also rise to nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD). It is noteworthy that advanced stages of nonalcoholic hepatic steatosis and steatohepatitis (NASH) result ultimately in fibrosis and cirrhosis. In this regard, the lipid droplets (LDs) have been discovered to be metabolically highly active structures that play major roles in lipid transport, sorting, and signaling cascades. In particular, LDs maintain a dynamic communication with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the plasma membrane via sphingolipid-enriched domains of the plasma membrane-the lipid rafts. These microdomains frequently harbor receptor tyrosine kinases and other signaling molecules and connect extracellular events with intracellular signaling cascades. Here, we review recent knowledge on the molecular mechanisms of drug and metabolically induced hepatic steatosis and its progression to steatohepatitis (NASH). The contribution of cytokines and other signaling molecules, as well as activity of nuclear receptors, lipids, transcription factors, and endocrine mediators toward cellular dysfunction and progression of steatotic liver disease to NASH is specifically addressed, as is the cross-talk of different cell types in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. Furthermore, we provide an overview of recent therapeutic approaches in NASH therapy and discuss new as well as putative targets for pharmacological interventions.