Liver cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide due to late diagnosis and scarcity of treatment options. The major risk factor for liver cancer is cirrhosis with the underlying causes of cirrhosis being viral infection (hepatitis B or C), metabolic deregulation (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the presence of obesity and diabetes), alcohol or cholestatic disorders. Lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) is a bioactive phospholipid with numerous effects, most of them compatible with the hallmarks of cancer (proliferation, migration, invasion, survival, evasion of apoptosis, deregulated metabolism, neoangiogenesis, etc.). Autotaxin (ATX) is the enzyme responsible for the bulk of extracellular LPA production, and together with LPA signaling is involved in chronic inflammatory diseases, fibrosis and cancer. This review discusses the most important findings and the mechanisms related to ATX/LPA/LPAR involvement on metabolic, viral and cholestatic liver disorders and their progression to liver cancer in the context of human patients and mouse models. It focuses on the role of ATX/LPA in NAFLD development and its progression to liver cancer as NAFLD has an increasing incidence which is associated with the increasing incidence of liver cancer. Bearing in mind that adipose tissue accounts for the largest amount of LPA production, many studies have implicated LPA in adipose tissue metabolism and inflammation, liver steatosis, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and lipogenesis. At the same time, LPA and ATX play crucial roles in fibrotic diseases. Given that hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is usually developed on the background of liver fibrosis, therapies that both delay the progression of fibrosis and prevent its development to malignancy would be very promising. Therefore, ATX/LPA signaling appears as an attractive therapeutic target as evidenced by the fact that it is involved in both liver fibrosis progression and liver cancer development.
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