Intestinal fungus may have role in alcoholic liver disease

Paul Basilio, MDLinx | May 23, 2017

A new study has found that intestinal fungi may have a role in the development of alcoholic liver disease (ALD). The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the NIH. It was published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.


Fungi flourished in the intestines of mice with chronic exposure to alcohol, and the fungal overgrowth exacerbated alcohol-induced liver disease.

Investigators at the University of California, San Diego, and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD, showed that treatment with an oral antifungal protected mice from progression of alcohol-related liver disease. A separate research component showed the intestinal fungi in humans was linked to ALD and an increased risk of death for those with ALD.

Past research has shown an association between ALD and a bacterial overgrowth of the intestines, as well as a shift in the types of bacteria found there, but little was known about the role of intestinal fungi.

In the current study, the team found that fungi flourished in the intestines of mice with chronic exposure to alcohol. They also noted that fungal overgrowth exacerbated alcohol-induced liver disease.

The researchers treated the mice with the antifungal agent amphotericin B. The mice with alcohol-related liver disease that received amphotericin B had lower levels of liver injury and fat accumulation when compared to untreated mice.

“Preventing fungal overgrowth protects mice from ethanol-induced liver disease,” the authors wrote in the study.

In a small, preliminary study involving humans that examined intestinal fungi in those with alcohol use disorder and various stages of liver disease, findings showed an overgrowth of a Candida species that was not seen in healthy controls. Less fungal diversity was also present in those with alcohol use disorder and ALD.

“Chronic alcohol consumption is associated with an altered mycobiota and translocation of fungal products,” the authors stated. “Manipulating the intestinal mycobiome might be an effective strategy for attenuating alcohol-related liver disease.”

If further study confirms that fungi are involved in the worsening of ALD, it may be possible to slow disease progression by adjusting the balance of fungal species living in the intestine of a person with ALD.

To read the study, click here.