Long Non-Coding RNAs Involved in Progression of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease to Steatohepatitis

Biljana Atanasovska, Sander S. Rensen, Glenn Marsman, Ronit Shiri-Sverdlov, Sebo Withoff, Folkert Kuipers, Cisca Wijmenga, Bart van de Sluis, Jingyuan Fu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most prevalent chronic liver disease and is characterized by different stages varying from benign fat accumulation to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) that may progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer. In recent years, a regulatory role of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) in NAFLD has emerged. Therefore, we aimed to characterize the still poorly understood lncRNA contribution to disease progression. Transcriptome analysis in 60 human liver samples with various degrees of NAFLD/NASH was combined with a functional genomics experiment in an in vitro model where we exposed HepG2 cells to free fatty acids (FFA) to induce steatosis, then stimulated them with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) to mimic inflammation. Bioinformatics analyses provided a functional prediction of novel lncRNAs. We further functionally characterized the involvement of one novel lncRNA in the nuclear-factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) signaling pathway by its silencing in Hepatoma G2 (HepG2) cells. We identified 730 protein-coding genes and 18 lncRNAs that responded to FFA/TNF alpha and associated with human NASH phenotypes with consistent effect direction, with most being linked to inflammation. One novel intergenic lncRNA, designated lncTNF, was 20-fold up-regulated upon TNF alpha stimulation in HepG2 cells and positively correlated with lobular inflammation in human liver samples. Silencing lncTNF in HepG2 cells reduced NF-kappa B activity and suppressed expression of the NF-kappa B target genes A20 and NFKBIA. The lncTNF we identified in the NF-kappa B signaling pathway may represent a novel target for controlling liver inflammation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1883
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • functional genomics
  • long non-coding RNAs


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