Obstructive sleep apnea as a risk factor in the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Lee, Alexander Shang-Long
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Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) afflicts approximately a quarter of the world’s general population and more than half of the world’s obese population. The disease is characterized by a spectrum of liver pathologies, ranging from simple steatosis or the accumulation of fat within hepatic tissue to steatohepatitis comprised of inflammation and fibrosis, also known as NASH. Simple steatosis is relatively asymptomatic and is considered benign, but NASH poses great risk for advanced forms of liver disease, such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer. Obstructive sleep apnea(OSA) is a respiratory disorder involving the recurrent collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Consequently, the patient experiences constant arousals due to constant blockage followed reopening of the airway. Aside from poor quality and disruption of sleep, chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH) is also present during OSA. The presence of CIH leaves many vital organs deprived of adequate oxygen to carry out normal physiological function. In response to this hypoxic state, the body upregulates many transcription factors, many of which control inflammatory processes. In recent studies, chronic and recurrent hypoxia generated from OSA has been implicated in the onset and progression of NAFLD. The pathogenesis of NAFLD is believed to be associated with metabolic imbalances, mainly obesity and insulin resistance, both of which also overlap with OSA. These conditions are the main factors in predisposing a patient suffering from OSA to the effects of CIH. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that CIH may accelerate the development of NAFLD through 1) Lipolysis of hepatic adipose tissue and increased hepatic free fatty acids; 2) Upregulation of lipid biosynthetic through CIH; 3) Upregulation of hypoxia-inducible factor 1-alpha by CIH inducing liver inflammation and fibrosis. The primary focus of this thesis will attempt to determine a possible link between OSA and NAFLD. Through citation of prior scientific studies, it will formulate the theory of OSA as a predisposing factor in the heightened risk of NAFLD pathogenesis and development to more severe, terminal stages. Primarily, the review of literature will highlight the metabolic imbalances of obesity and insulin resistance and how each is related to OSA and NAFLD. Ultimately, deposition of fat and inflammation triggered through various chemical factors connected to OSA will depict both the generation and progression of NAFLD.