Background/aims: Studies in animal models and humans suggest a link between endotoxemia and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. Since Kupffer cells are responsible for clearing endotoxin and are activated via endotoxin interaction with Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4), we examined the relationship between hepatic TLR-4 expression and Kupffer cell content during the genesis of steatohepatitis.
Methods: Male C57BL/6, C3H/HouJ and TLR-4 mutant C3H/HeJ mice were fed control or methionine/choline-deficient diet (MCDD). In one group of C57BL/6 mice, Kupffer cells were depleted by weekly intraperitoneal injections of clodronate liposomes. After 3 weeks, serum ALT activity and portal endotoxin levels were measured. Real-time PCR was used to examine mRNA expression of TLR-4, TLR-2, CD14, MD-2, TGFbeta, TNFalpha, CD36, PPAR-alpha, liver fatty acid binding protein (L-FABP) and collagen alpha1.
Results: We observed histological evidence typical of steatohepatitis, portal endotoxemia and enhanced TLR-4 expression in wild type mice fed MCDD. In contrast, injury and lipid accumulation markers were significantly lower in TLR-4 mutant mice. Destruction of Kupffer cells with clodronate liposomes blunted histological evidence of steatohepatitis and prevented increases in TLR-4 expression.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate the importance of TLR-4 signaling and underscore a direct link between TLR-4 and Kupffer cells in the pathogenesis of steatohepatitis.