Mitochondrial dysfunction precedes insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis and contributes to the natural history of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in an obese rodent model

J Hepatol. 2010 May;52(5):727-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2009.11.030. Epub 2010 Mar 4.


Background & aims: In this study, we sought to determine the temporal relationship between hepatic mitochondrial dysfunction, hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance, and to examine their potential role in the natural progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) utilising a sedentary, hyperphagic, obese, Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty (OLETF) rat model.

Methods: OLETF rats and their non-hyperphagic control Long-Evans Tokushima Otsuka (LETO) rats were sacrificed at 5, 8, 13, 20, and 40 weeks of age (n=6-8 per group).

Results: At 5 weeks of age, serum insulin and glucose and hepatic triglyceride (TG) concentrations did not differ between animal groups; however, OLETF animals displayed significant (p<0.01) hepatic mitochondrial dysfunction as measured by reduced hepatic carnitine palmitoyl-CoA transferase-1 activity, fatty acid oxidation, and cytochrome c protein content compared with LETO rats. Hepatic TG levels were significantly elevated by 8 weeks of age, and insulin resistance developed by 13 weeks in the OLETF rats. NAFLD progressively worsened to include hepatocyte ballooning, perivenular fibrosis, 2.5-fold increase in serum ALT, hepatic mitochondrial ultrastructural abnormalities, and increased hepatic oxidative stress in the OLETF animals at later ages. Measures of hepatic mitochondrial content and function including beta-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase activity, citrate synthase activity, and immunofluorescence staining for mitochondrial carbamoyl phosphate synthetase-1, progressively worsened and were significantly reduced at 40 weeks in OLETF rats compared to LETO animals.

Conclusions: Our study documents that hepatic mitochondrial dysfunction precedes the development of NAFLD and insulin resistance in the OLETF rats. This evidence suggests that progressive mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to the natural history of obesity-associated NAFLD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Azo Compounds
  • Body Composition
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Energy Intake
  • Fatty Liver / physiopathology*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Glutathione Disulfide / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mitochondria, Liver / physiology
  • Mitochondria, Liver / ultrastructure
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Palmitic Acid / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reference Values
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism


  • Azo Compounds
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • oil red O
  • Glutathione
  • Glutathione Disulfide