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Background and aims: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common chronic liver condition. It is tightly associated with an adverse metabolic phenotype (including obesity and type 2 diabetes) as well as with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) of which intermittent hypoxia is a critical component. Hepatic de novo lipogenesis (DNL) is a significant contributor to hepatic lipid content and the pathogenesis of NAFLD and has been proposed as a key pathway to target in the development of pharmacotherapies to treat NAFLD. Our aim is to use experimental models to investigate the impact of hypoxia on hepatic lipid metabolism independent of obesity and metabolic disease. Methods: Human and rodent studies incorporating stable isotopes and hyperinsulinaemic euglycaemic clamp studies were performed to assess the regulation of DNL and broader metabolic phenotype by intermittent hypoxia. Cell-based studies, including pharmacological and genetic manipulation of hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF), were used to examine the underlying mechanisms. Results: Hepatic DNL increased in response to acute intermittent hypoxia in humans, without alteration in glucose production or disposal. These observations were endorsed in a prolonged model of intermittent hypoxia in rodents using stable isotopic assessment of lipid metabolism. Changes in DNL were paralleled by increases in hepatic gene expression of acetyl CoA carboxylase 1 and fatty acid synthase. In human hepatoma cell lines, hypoxia increased both DNL and fatty acid uptake through HIF-1α and -2α dependent mechanisms. Conclusions: These studies provide robust evidence linking intermittent hypoxia and the regulation of DNL in both acute and sustained in vivo models of intermittent hypoxia, providing an important mechanistic link between hypoxia and NAFLD.

Original publication




Journal article


Metabol Open

Publication Date





HIF, Hypoxia, Lipid metabolism, NAFLD