The world's rising obesity epidemic is associated with a broad spectrum of ailments including atherosclerosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) disease. Each condition can progress from small fatty deposits to localized tissue inflammation that is potentially dangerous.

For example, in arterial vessel walls, inflamed atherosclerotic plaques are prone to rupture (thrombosis) to form blood clots that may cause life-threatening strokes or heart attacks. Now a new study sheds light on the long-term effects of highly inflamed plaques on the progression of liver fibrosis.

"In the past, research focused on particular conditions of the vasculature or liver, but the contribution of chronic systemic effects and inter-organ communication to the pathogenesis of both diseases, and notably liver disease, remained understudied," explained corresponding author James Hamilton, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University.

Progressive liver disease

The researchers found that advanced inflamed vascular plaques were associated with the progressive liver disease. According to Hamilton, these observations support the broad emerging view that chronic unresolved inflammation may impart systemic effects leading to secondary conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

"The good news of our study showing this inflammatory relationship between vascular and liver disease is that the systemic nature of these diseases also presents a valuable therapeutic approach, including the treatment with natural molecules that lower inflammation without unwanted side effects," said Hamilton.

Hamilton and his colleagues are currently testing oral delivery of molecules produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA found in fish oils, which have been shown to be effective in treating both periodontal inflammation and atherosclerotic plaque inflammation.

This study has demonstrated that progressive atherosclerotic vascular inflammation is associated with worsening liver disease in rabbits. The liver disease appears to synergized between diet, aortic injury, and atherosclerotic inflammation, whereby the injury coupled with local plaque inflammation drives disease progression in both areas.

These observations support the emerging broad hypothesis that unresolved inflammation may impart systemic effects. These findings provide a basis for detailed investigation of the mechanisms and molecules released from the plaques that can lead to inflammation and fibrosis in the liver.

An important test of our overall hypothesis will be to assess the impact of pro-resolving mediators of inflammation, including lipoxins and resolvins, molecules that have been shown to be potent in treating or possibly preventing many inflammation-associated diseases