Serum metabolomic profiling highlights pathways associated with liver fat content in a general population sample

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Fatty liver disease (FLD) is an important intermediate trait along the cardiometabolic disease spectrum and strongly associates with type 2 diabetes. Knowledge of biological pathways implicated in FLD is limited. An untargeted metabolomic approach might unravel novel pathways related to FLD.


In a population-based sample (n = 555) from Northern Germany, liver fat content was quantified as liver signal intensity using magnetic resonance imaging. Serum metabolites were determined using a non-targeted approach. Partial least squares regression was applied to derive a metabolomic score, explaining variation in serum metabolites and liver signal intensity. Associations of the metabolomic score with liver signal intensity and FLD were investigated in multivariable-adjusted robust linear and logistic regression models, respectively. Metabolites with a variable importance in the projection > 1 were entered in in silico overrepresentation and pathway analyses.


In univariate analysis, the metabolomics score explained 23.9% variation in liver signal intensity. A 1-unit increment in the metabolomic score was positively associated with FLD (n = 219; odds ratio: 1.36; 95% confidence interval: 1.27-1.45) adjusting for age, sex, education, smoking and physical activity. A simplified score based on the 15 metabolites with highest variable importance in the projection statistic showed similar associations. Overrepresentation and pathway analyses highlighted branched-chain amino acids and derived gamma-glutamyl dipeptides as significant correlates of FLD.


A serum metabolomic profile was associated with FLD and liver fat content. We identified a simplified metabolomics score, which should be evaluated in prospective studies.

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