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Gut. 2001 February; 48(2): 206–211.
PMCID: PMC1728215

The role of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, intestinal permeability, endotoxaemia, and tumour necrosis factor α in the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis


BACKGROUND—Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth may contribute to the development of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, perhaps by increasing intestinal permeability and promoting the absorption of endotoxin or other enteric bacterial products.
AIMS—To investigate the prevalence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, increased intestinal permeability, elevated endotoxin, and tumour necrosis factor α (TNF-α) levels in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and in control subjects.
PATIENTS AND METHODS—Twenty two patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and 23 control subjects were studied. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth was assessed by a combined 14C-D-xylose and lactulose breath test. Intestinal permeability was assessed by a dual lactulose-rhamnose sugar test. Serum endotoxin levels were determined using the limulus amoebocyte lysate assay and TNF-α levels using an ELISA.
RESULTS—Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth was present in 50% of patients with non-alcoholic steatosis and 22% of control subjects (p=0.048). Mean TNF-α levels in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis patients and control subjects were 14.2 and 7.5 pg/ml, respectively (p=0.001). Intestinal permeability and serum endotoxin levels were similar in the two groups.
CONCLUSIONS—Patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis have a higher prevalence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, as assessed by the 14C-D-xylose-lactulose breath test, and higher TNF-α levels in comparison with control subjects. This is not accompanied by increased intestinal permeability or elevated endotoxin levels.

Keywords: non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; intestinal permeability; endotoxin; tumour necrosis factor α

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