Cell-Free Circulating Nucleic Acids as Early Biomarkers for NAFLD and NAFLD-Associated Disorders
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the worldwide most common cause of chronic liver pathology, which prevalence strongly correlates with the increasing incidence of diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome in the general population. Simple steatosis, the earliest NAFLD stage, usually remains asymptomatic, and appropriate changes in the lifestyle, as well as the diet, can reverse the affected liver into the healthy state. The potential of simple steatosis to progress into severe fibrotic stages and to facilitate carcinogenesis necessitates timely NAFLD detection and risk stratification in community-based healthcare settings. Since their initial discovery a decade ago, extracellular circulating miRNAs have been found in all human biological fluids including blood and shown to hold great promises as non-invasive biomarkers. Normally, intracellular miRNAs participate in the regulation of gene expression, but once released by dying/dead cells they remain highly stable in the extracellular environment for prolonged periods. Therefore, circulating miRNA profiles can reflect the ongoing pathogenic processes in body's tissues and organs, and enable highly sensitive non-invasive diagnosis of multiple disorders. A non-urgent character of the NAFLD-related decision-making justifies the use of chronic liver diseases as an excellent test case for examining the practical utility of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers for longitudinal monitoring of human health. In this review, we summarize the state-of-the-art in the field of early diagnosis of NAFLD using circulating blood miRNAs, and stress the necessity of additional experimental validation of their diagnostic potential. We further emphasize on the potential diagnostics promises of other cell-free RNA species found in human biological fluids.