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Am J Gastroenterol. 2017 Jan;112(1):102-110. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2016.318. Epub 2016 Aug 16.

Clinical and Metabolic Characterization of Lean Caucasian Subjects With Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver.

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First Department of Medicine, Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg, Austria.
Obesity Research Unit, Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg, Austria.
Department of Laboratory Medicine, Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.
Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital Oberndorf, Austria.
Hepatology Unit, Clinic Beau-Site, Bern and Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.



Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is closely linked to obesity; however, 5-8% of lean subjects also have evidence of NAFLD. We aimed to investigate clinical, genetic, metabolic and lifestyle characteristics in lean Caucasian subjects with NAFLD.


Data from 187 subjects allocated to one of the three groups according to body mass index (BMI) and hepatic steatosis on ultrasound were obtained: lean healthy (BMI≤25 kg/m2, no steatosis, N=71), lean NAFLD (BMI≤25 kg/m2, steatosis, N=55), obese NAFLD (BMI≥30 kg/m2, steatosis; N=61). All subjects received a detailed clinical and laboratory examination including oral glucose tolerance test. The serum metabolome was assessed using the Metabolomics AbsoluteIDQ p180 kit (BIOCRATES Life Sciences). Genotyping for single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with NAFLD was performed.


Lean NAFLD subjects had fasting insulin concentrations similar to lean healthy subjects but had markedly impaired glucose tolerance. Lean NAFLD subjects had a higher rate of the mutant PNPLA3 CG/GG variant compared to lean controls (P=0.007). Serum adiponectin concentrations were decreased in both NAFLD groups compared to controls (P<0.001 for both groups) The metabolomics study revealed a potential role for various lysophosphatidylcholines (lyso-PC C18:0, lyso-PC C17:0) and phosphatidylcholines (PCaa C36:3; false discovery rate (FDR)-corrected P-value<0.001) as well as lysine, tyrosine, and valine (FDR<0.001).


Lean subjects with evidence of NAFLD have clinically relevant impaired glucose tolerance, low adiponectin concentrations and a distinct metabolite profile with an increased rate of PNPLA3 risk allele carriage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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