Background & Aims: Metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) is a common complication of obesity with a hallmark feature of hepatic steatosis. Recent data from animal models of MAFLD have demonstrated substantial changes in macrophage composition in the fatty liver. In humans, the relationship between liver macrophage heterogeneity and liver steatosis is less clear. Methods: Liver tissue from 21 participants was collected at time of bariatric surgery and analysed using flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, and H&E microscopy. Single-cell RNA sequencing was also conducted on a subset of samples (n = 3). Intrahepatic triglyceride content was assessed via MRI and tissue histology. Mouse models of hepatic steatosis were used to investigate observations made from human liver tissue. Results: We observed variable degrees of liver steatosis with minimal fibrosis in our participants. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed four macrophage clusters that exist in the human fatty liver encompassing Kupffer cells and monocyte-derived macrophages (MdMs). The genes expressed in these macrophage subsets were similar to those observed in mouse models of MAFLD. Hepatic CD14+ monocyte/macrophage number correlated with the degree of steatosis. Using mouse models of early liver steatosis, we demonstrate that recruitment of MdMs precedes Kupffer cell loss and liver damage. Electron microscopy of isolated macrophages revealed increased lipid accumulation in MdMs, and ex vivo lipid transfer experiments suggested that MdMs may serve a distinct role in lipid uptake during MAFLD. Conclusions: The human liver in MAFLD contains macrophage subsets that align well with those that appear in mouse models of fatty liver disease. Recruited myeloid cells correlate well with the degree of liver steatosis in humans. MdMs appear to participate in lipid uptake during early stages of MALFD. Impact and implications: Metabolic dysfunction associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) is extremely common; however, the early inflammatory responses that occur in human disease are not well understood. In this study, we investigated macrophage heterogeneity in human livers during early MAFLD and demonstrated that similar shifts in macrophage subsets occur in human disease that are similar to those seen in preclinical models. These findings are important as they establish a translational link between mouse and human models of disease, which is important for the development and testing of new therapeutic approaches for MAFLD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100877
JournalJHEP Reports
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Inflammation
  • Kupffer cells
  • Liver steatosis
  • Obesity


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