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J Hepatol. 2013 Mar;58(3):549-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2012.10.031. Epub 2012 Nov 8.

Hepatocyte senescence predicts progression in non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease.

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  • 1Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK.



Models of non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) reveal features of accelerated ageing, such as impaired regeneration, and an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. The relation between accelerated ageing, disease progression and clinical outcome has not been previously investigated and is the subject of the current study.


Liver sections from 70 patients with NAFLD (105 biopsies) and 60 controls were studied for telomere length, nuclear area, DNA damage and cell cycle phase markers, using quantitative fluorescent in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry.


Hepatocyte telomeres were shorter in NAFLD than controls (p <0.0001). Hepatocytes in NAFLD demonstrated lack of cell cycle progression beyond G1/S phase and high-level expression of p21, the universal cell cycle inhibitor (p=0.001). γ-H(2)AX expression increased with steatosis (p=0.01), indicating DNA damage, and was associated with shorter hepatocyte telomeres (p <0.0001). Hepatocyte p21 expression correlated with fibrosis stage and diabetes mellitus, independently (p <0.001 and p=0.002, respectively). Further analysis revealed that an adverse liver-related outcome was strongly associated with higher hepatocyte p21 expression and greater hepatocyte nuclear area (p=0.02 and p=0.006), but not with telomere length. In paired biopsies, changes in hepatocyte p21 expression and nuclear area mirrored changes in fibrosis stage (p=0.01 and p=0.006, respectively).


These findings are consistent with hepatocyte senescence and permanent cell cycle arrest in NAFLD. Hepatocyte senescence correlated closely with fibrosis stage, diabetes mellitus, and clinical outcome. Hepatocyte p21 expression could be used as a prognostic marker and for stratification in clinical studies.

Copyright © 2012 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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