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Nutrition, Gut Bacteria and Fatty Liver Disease

Principal Investigator

Photo of Dr. Zhiping Li, M.D.

Li, Zhiping, M.D.

Associate Professor of Medicine

Research Team

Shuwen Liang, PhD

Contact Information

Phone: 410-955-9677

Study Focus

Obesity and related health problems, particularly those associated with fatty liver disease, are increasing rapidly. Of various factors that contribute to the rising incidence of obesity-related diseases, dietary factors merit particular consideration because diets that are enriched in certain macronutrients (e.g., polyunsaturated fats) induce both obesity and insulin-resistance in experimental animals and humans. This may explain why Westernized diets are associated with an increased prevalence of obesity and fatty liver disease. Intensive efforts aimed at clarifying mechanisms that underlie diet-induced obesity and fatty liver disease have identified the immune response and gut bacteria as important factors. 

Our studies have indicated that certain dietary elements modify gut bacterial composition and affect the liver immune system that contributes to the formation of fatty liver disease. Modifying gut bacteria with probiotics may provide some benefit in fatty liver disease. Our current research focus is directed toward understanding how dietary factors modify gut bacteria and their implications in fatty liver disease.


1. Li Z, Lin HZ, Yang SQ and Diehl AM.  Murine leptin deficiency alters Kupffer cell production of cytokines that regulate the innate immune system. Gastroenterology. 2002; 123:1304-1310

2. Li Z, Clark J and Diehl, AM. The liver in obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Clin Liver Dis. 2002; 6:867-877

3. Li Z, Yang SQ, Lin HZ, Huang JW, Watkins PA, Moser AB, DeSimone C, Song XY, Diehl AM.  Probiotics and antibodies to TNF inhibit inflammatory activity and improve non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology. 2003; 37:343-350

4. Li Z, Oben JA, Yang S, Lin H, Stafford EA, Soloski MJ, Thomas S and Diehl AM.  Norepinephrine regulates hepatic innate immune system in leptin deficient mice with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Hepatology. 2004; 40:434-441

5. Li Z, Soloski MJ and Diehl AM.  Dietary factors alter hepatic innate immune system in mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology. 2005; 42:880-885

6. Ma X, Hua J, Mohamood AR, Hamad AR, Ravi R and Li Z.  A high-fat diet and regulatory T cells influence susceptibility to endotoxin-induced liver injury. Hepatology. 2007; 46:1519-1529

7. Ma X, Hua J and Li Z.  Probiotics improve high fat diet-induced hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance by increasing hepatic NKT cells. J Hepatol 2008; 49:821-830

8. Hua J, Liang S, Ma X, Webb TJ, Potter JP and Li Z.  The interaction between regulatory T cells and NKT cells in the liver: A CD1d bridge links innate and adaptive immunity. PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27038

9. Tang ZH, Liang S, Potter J, Jiang X, Mao HQ, and Li Z.  Tim-3/Galectin-9 Regulate the Homeostasis of Hepatic NKT Cells in a Murine Model of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. J Immunol. 2013 Jan 7. [Epub ahead of print]