Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Target deconvolution of fenofibrate in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease using bioinformatics analysis

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-10-20, 08:53 authored by Ali Mahmoudi, Alexandra ButlerAlexandra Butler, Tannaz Jamialahmadi, Amirhossein Sahebkar

Background: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a prevalent form of liver damage, affecting ~25% of the global population. NAFLD comprises a spectrum of liver pathologies, from hepatic steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and may progress to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. The presence of NAFLD correlates with metabolic disorders such as hyperlipidemia, obesity, blood hypertension, cardiovascular, and insulin resistance. Fenofibrate is an agonist drug for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα), used principally for treatment of hyperlipidemia. However, fenofibrate has recently been investigated in clinical trials for treatment of other metabolic disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and NAFLD. The evidence to date indicates that fenofibrate could improve NAFLD. While PPARα is considered to be the main target of fenofibrate, fenofibrate may exert its effect through impact on other genes and pathways thereby alleviating, and possibly reversing, NAFLD. In this study, using bioinformatics tools and gene-drug, gene-diseases databases, we sought to explore possible targets, interactions, and pathways involved in fenofibrate and NAFLD.

Methods: We first determined significant protein interactions with fenofibrate in the STITCH database with high confidence (0.7). Next, we investigated the identified proteins on curated targets in two databases, including the DisGeNET and DISEASES databases, to determine their association with NAFLD. We finally constructed a Venn diagram for these two collections (curated genes-NAFLD and fenofibrate-STITCH) to uncover possible primary targets of fenofibrate. Then, Gene Ontology (GO) and KEGG were analyzed to detect the significantly involved targets in molecular function, biological process, cellular component, and biological pathways. A P value < 0.01 was considered the cut-off criterion. We also estimated the specificity of targets with NAFLD by investigating them in disease-gene associations (STRING) and EnrichR (DisGeNET). Finally, we verified our findings in the scientific literature.

Results: We constructed two collections, one with 80 protein-drug interactions and the other with 95 genes associated with NAFLD. Using the Venn diagram, we identified 11 significant targets including LEP, SIRT1, ADIPOQ, PPARA, SREBF1, LDLR, GSTP1, VLDLR, SCARB1, MMP1, and APOC3 and then evaluated their biological pathways. Based on Gene Ontology, most of the targets are involved in lipid metabolism, and KEGG enrichment pathways showed the PPAR signaling pathway, AMPK signaling pathway, and NAFLD as the most significant pathways. The interrogation of those targets on authentic disease databases showed they were more specific to both steatosis and steatohepatitis liver injury than to any other diseases in these databases. Finally, we identified three significant genes, APOC3, PPARA, and SREBF1, that showed robust drug interaction with fenofibrate.

Conclusion: Fenofibrate may exert its effect directly or indirectly, via modulation of several key targets and pathways, in the treatment of NAFLD.



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Published Citation

Mahmoudi A, Butler AE, Jamialahmadi T, Sahebkar A. Target deconvolution of fenofibrate in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease using bioinformatics analysis. Biomed Res Int. 2021;2021:3654660

Publication Date

26 December 2021

PubMed ID



  • RCSI Bahrain


Hindawi Pub. Co.


  • Published Version (Version of Record)