Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) defines a wide pathological spectrum ranging from simple steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which may predispose to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. It represents the leading cause of hepatic damage worldwide. Diagnosis of NASH still requires liver biopsy but due to the high prevalence of NAFLD, this procedure, which is invasive, is not practicable for mass screening. Thus, it is crucial to non-invasively identify NAFLD patients at higher risk of progression to NASH and fibrosis. It has been demonstrated that hepatic fat content and progressive liver damage have a strong heritable component. Therefore, genetic variants associated with NAFLD have been proposed as non-invasive markers to be used in clinical practice. However, genetic variability is not completely explained by these common variants and it is possible that many of the phenotypic differences result from gene-environment interactions. Indeed, NAFLD development and progression is also modulated by epigenetic factors, in particular microRNAs (miRNAs), which control at post-transcriptional level many complementary target mRNAs and whose dysregulation has been shown to have high prognostic and predictive value in NAFLD. The premise of the current review is to discuss the role of miRNAs as pathogenic factors, risk predictors and therapeutic targets in NAFLD.
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