Hepatic and HSC-specific sorafenib effects in rats with established secondary biliary cirrhosis

Lab Invest. 2011 Feb;91(2):241-51. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2010.148. Epub 2010 Oct 4.


Portal hypertension in cirrhosis depends on increased intrahepatic vascular resistance, which is explained by fibrosis and intrahepatic hyperresponsiveness to vasoconstrictors. Both are caused by activation and proliferation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Portal hypertension of cirrhotic rats can be reduced by the multikinase inhibitor sorafenib, due to a reduction of intrahepatic vascular resistance. Therefore, the hepatic effects of sorafenib require further understanding. Here, we investigated hepatic and HSC-specific sorafenib effects in cirrhotic rats. Animal models of bile duct ligation-induced secondary biliary cirrhosis in rats were studied. The rats were treated with sorafenib (60 mg/kg/day) for 1 week, starting after established cirrhosis. Histological evaluation was carried out using hemalaun and eosin (HE) staining. Apoptosis was studied by PARP cleavage, colorimetric caspase-3 assay, and electrophoretic DNA detection. HSC activation was studied by hepatic Sirius red and immunohistochemical αSMA (α-smooth muscle actin) staining, and by in vitro experiments with culture-activated primary HSCs. Biochemical serum parameters suggested the occurrence of sorafenib-induced liver damage. HE staining revealed histological changes in livers of sham-operated and bile duct-ligated (BDL) rats in response to sorafenib, which were different in both groups. In BDL rats and isolated HSCs, the treatment with sorafenib reduced hepatic αSMA and procollagen-1α mRNA expression. As shown by immunohistochemical staining, perisinusoidal αSMA expression was reduced by sorafenib in BDL rats. This was associated with reduced perisinusoidal deposition of extracellular matrix, as revealed by Sirius red staining. Although no change in PARP cleavage and only a minor increase in hepatic caspase-3 activity were detected in BDL rats in response to sorafenib, livers of sorafenib-treated BDL rats contained small DNA fragments, which were not observed in untreated BDL rats. In conclusion, sorafenib treatment reduces the number of activated HSCs in cirrhotic livers. This leads to the decrease in intrahepatic vascular resistance, but also to liver damage in the dosage we used. Therefore, any translation to portal hypertensive patients who may profit from sorafenib should be done with particular care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Benzenesulfonates / pharmacology*
  • Benzenesulfonates / therapeutic use
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Colorimetry
  • DNA Fragmentation / drug effects
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / drug effects*
  • Histological Techniques
  • Hypertension, Portal / drug therapy*
  • Hypertension, Portal / etiology*
  • Hypertension, Portal / pathology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Liver / blood supply
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / pathology
  • Niacinamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Pyridines / pharmacology*
  • Pyridines / therapeutic use
  • Rats
  • Sorafenib
  • Vascular Resistance / drug effects*


  • Actins
  • Benzenesulfonates
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridines
  • smooth muscle actin, rat
  • Niacinamide
  • Sorafenib
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Caspase 3