Calorie-enriched diet and lack of exercise are causing a worldwide surge of obesity, insulin resistance and lipid accretion in liver (i.e. hepatic steatosis), which can lead to steatohepatitis. Steatosis and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) can also be induced by drugs such as amiodarone, tamoxifen and some antiretroviral drugs, including stavudine and zidovudine. There is accumulating evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction (more particularly respiratory chain deficiency) plays a key role in the physiopathology of NASH whatever its initial cause. In contrast, the mitochondrial β-oxidation of fatty acids can be either increased (as in insulin resistance-associated NASH) or decreased (as in drug-induced NASH). However, in both circumstances, generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by the damaged respiratory chain can be augmented. ROS generation in an environment enriched in lipids in turn induces lipid peroxidation which releases highly reactive aldehydic derivatives (e.g. malondialdehyde) that have diverse detrimental effects on hepatocytes and other hepatic cells. In hepatocytes, ROS, reactive nitrogen species and lipid peroxidation products further impair the respiratory chain, either directly or indirectly through oxidative damage to the mitochondrial genome. This consequently leads to the generation of more ROS and a vicious cycle occurs. Mitochondrial dysfunction can also lead to apoptosis or necrosis depending on the energy status of the cell. ROS and lipid peroxidation products also increase the generation of several cytokines (TNF-α, TGF-β, Fas ligand) playing a key role in cell death, inflammation and fibrosis. Recent investigations have shown that some genetic polymorphisms can significantly increase the risk of steatohepatitis and that several drugs can prevent or even reverse NASH. Interestingly, most of these drugs could exert their beneficial effects by improving directly or indirectly mitochondrial function in liver. Finding a drug, which could fully prevent oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in NASH is a major challenge for the next decade. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. and Mitochondria Research Society. All rights reserved.
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