Molecular Genetics, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), Groningen, The Netherlands.
The liver is the only internal human organ capable of natural regeneration of lost tissue, as little as 25% of a liver can regenerate into a whole liver. The process of aging predisposes to hepatic functional and structural impairment and metabolic risk. Therefore, understanding how aging could affect the molecular pathology of liver diseases is particularly important, and few studies to date have tackled this complex process. The most common liver disease, affecting one-third of the overall population, is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), characterized by an intrahepatic accumulation of lipids. NAFLD can evolve into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in the presence of oxidative stress and inflammation. NASH is a serious risk factor for disabling and deadly liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Old age seems to favor NAFLD, NASH, and ultimately HCC, in agreement with the inflamm-aging theory, according to which aging accrues inflammation. However, the incidence of HCC drops significantly in the very elderly (individuals aged more than 70) and the relationship between the progression of NAFLD/NASH/HCC and very old age is obscure. In this review, we discuss the literature and we argue that there might be an age window in which the liver becomes resistant to the development of injury; this needs to be studied to understand fully the interaction between age and liver diseases from a therapeutic perspective.