Comprehensive lipidomics reveals phenotypic differences in hepatic lipid turnover in ALD and NAFLD during alcohol intoxication

Mads Israelsen, Min Kim, Tommi Suvitaival, Bjørn Stæhr Madsen, Camilla Dalby Hansen, Nikolaj Torp, Kajetan Trost, Maja Thiele, Torben Hansen, Cristina Legido-Quigley, Aleksander Krag*, MicrobLiver Consortium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background & Aims: In experimental models, alcohol induces acute changes in lipid metabolism that cause hepatocyte lipoapoptosis and inflammation. Here we study human hepatic lipid turnover during controlled alcohol intoxication. Methods: We studied 39 participants with 3 distinct hepatic phenotypes: alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and healthy controls. Alcohol was administrated via nasogastric tube over 30 min. Hepatic and systemic venous blood was sampled simultaneously at 3 time points: baseline, 60, and 180 min after alcohol intervention. Liver biopsies were sampled 240 min after alcohol intervention. We used ultra-high performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry to measure levels of more than 250 lipid species from the blood and liver samples. Results: After alcohol intervention, the levels of blood free fatty acid (FFA) and lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) decreased, while triglyceride (TG) increased. FFA was the only lipid class to decrease in NAFLD after alcohol intervention, whereas LPC and FFA decreased and TG increased after intervention in ALD and healthy controls. Fatty acid chain uptake preference in FFAs and LPCs were oleic acid, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. Hepatic venous blood FFA and LPC levels were lower when compared with systemic venous blood levels throughout the intervention. After alcohol intoxication, liver lipidome in ALD was similar to that in NAFLD. Conclusions: Alcohol intoxication induces rapid changes in circulating lipids including hepatic turnaround from FFA and LPC, potentially leading to lipoapoptosis and steatohepatitis. TG clearance was suppressed in NAFLD, possibly explaining why alcohol and NAFLD are synergistic risk factors for disease progression. These effects may be central to the pathogenesis of ALD. Clinical Trials Registration: The study is registered at (NCT03018990). Lay summary: We report that alcohol induces hepatic extraction of free unsaturated fatty acids and lysophosphatidylcholines, hepatotoxic lipids which have not been previously associated with alcohol-induced liver injury. We also found that individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have reduced lipid turnover during alcohol intoxication when compared with people with alcohol-related fatty liver disease. This may explain why alcohol is particularly more harmful in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver and why elevated BMI and alcohol have a synergistic effect on the risk of liver-related death.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100325
JournalJHEP Reports
Issue number5
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Fatty acids
  • Heavy drinking
  • Lipidomics
  • Liver disease
  • Lysophosphatidylcholines
  • Triglycerides


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