When we think about diseases that run in our family, a few may come to mind right away. There are genes that increase a person’s risk for developing breast and cervical cancer. Tay-Sachs disease is the result of a genetic mutation in the NEXA gene. Researchers have discovered another disease that has a genetic component, and it isn’t one that you might have suspected did.
Does anyone in your family have fatty liver disease? The disease is also called hepatic fibrosis. It is a disease that many people associate with alcoholism because it is possible to develop fatty liver disease as a result of overindulgence in alcohol. However, that isn’t the primary cause of the disease in all cases.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a term used to describe the accumulation of fat in the liver of people who drink little, or no, alcohol. The disease doesn’t always come with symptoms or signs of complications that a person can identify.
However, in some people nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can result in having fat accumulate on their livers that cases inflammation and scarring. This is the more serious form of the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This version is also called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH. There is no cure for NASH, but some treatment may help.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have found that hepatic fibrosis, which involves scarring of the liver, can have both environmental and genetic factors. Previously, it was assumed that the disease was due to environmental factors only.
The first author of the study was Rohit Loomba, M.D., who is an associate professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology. Loomba and colleagues performed a cross-sectional analysis of 60 pairs of twins. All of the twins lived in Southern California. A total of 42 pairs of the twins were monozygotic (which means they are identical twins with the exact same DNA). A total of 18 pairs of twins were dizygotic (which means they are fraternal and have different DNA).
The twins underwent advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques that quantify fat content in the liver, and that check liver stiffness (which is a measure of fibrosis). The results showed that 26 out of the 120 participants had NAFLD.
The researchers found that hepatic steatosis and liver fibrosis correlated strongly with identical twins, but not with the fraternal twins. This means that if one identical twin had it, the other likely had it as well. Although the researchers did not find a specific gene that “causes” fatty liver disease, the twin study indicates that genetics do play a role in who ends up developing the disease.
Image by Hey Paul Studios on Flickr.
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