Interaction of volatile organic compounds and underlying liver disease: a new paradigm for risk

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Occupational and environmental exposures to industrial chemicals are known to cause hepatotoxicity and liver injury, in humans and in animal models. Historically, research has focused on severe acute liver injury (e.g. fulminant liver failure) or endstage diseases (e.g. cirrhosis and HCC). However, it has become recently recognized that toxicants can cause more subtle changes to the liver. For example, toxicant-associated steatohepatitis, characterized by hepatic steatosis, and inflammation, was recently recognized in an occupational cohort exposed to vinyl chloride. At high occupational levels, toxicants are sufficient to cause liver damage and disease even in healthy subjects with no comorbidities for liver injury. However, it is still largely unknown how exposure to toxicants initiate and possibly more importantly exacerbate liver disease, when combined with other factors, such as underlying non-alcoholic fatty liver disease caused by poor diet and/or obesity. With better understanding of the mechanism(s) and risk factors that mediate the initiation and progression of toxicant-induced liver disease, rational targeted therapy can be developed to better predict risk, as well as to treat or prevent this disease. The purpose of this review is to summarize established and proposed mechanisms of volatile organic compound-induced liver injury and to highlight key signaling events known or hypothesized to mediate these effects.

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