Hepatic endothelin-1 and endocannabinoids-dependent effects of hyperleptinemia in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis-cirrhotic rats

Hepatology. 2012 May;55(5):1540-50. doi: 10.1002/hep.25534. Epub 2012 Apr 4.


Leptin, the ob gene product, is a protein released from adipocytes and has been detected in fibrotic and cirrhotic livers. Leptin in brain has an inhibitory effect on food intake. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is characterized by hyperleptinemia. This study explores the possible mechanisms of hyperleptinemia in relation to increased intrahepatic resistance (IHR) and portal hypertension in NASH cirrhotic rats. NASH cirrhotic rats with hyperleptinemia were induced in Zucker (fa/fa) and lean rats by feeding the animals a high fat/methionine-choline-deficient (HF/MCD) diet with and without exogenous administration of recombinant leptin. Portal venous pressure (PVP), IHR, plasma and hepatic levels of various substances, histopathology of the liver, the hepatic hydroxyproline content, and the expression of various hepatic protein and messenger RNA (mRNA) were measured. Hepatic microcirculatory dysfunction and the vasoconstrictive response to endothelin-1 were also observed using a liver perfusion system and intravital microscopy. Finally, the effect of leptin on hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) was evaluated. Both in HF/MCD-Zucker and HF/MCD+leptin lean rats, significant hepatic fibrogenesis and cirrhosis, marked portal hypertension, microcirculatory dysfunction, an enhanced vasoconstrictive response to endothelin-1, and an increased IHR were found to be associated with higher levels of hepatic endothelin-1 and endocannabinoids, expression levels of the cannabinoid type 1 receptor, endothelin-1 type A receptor (ET(A) R), activator protein-1, transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β)(1), osteopontin, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), leptin, and the leptin receptor (OBRb). Interestingly, acute incubation of leptin directly increases the expression of ET(A) R, OBRb and activator protein-1 in HSCs.

Conclusion: An HF/MCD diet and hyperleptinemia increase hepatic endocannabinoids production, promote hepatic fibrogenesis, enhance the hepatic vasoconstrictive response to endothelin-1, and aggravate hepatic microcirculatory dysfunction; these events subsequently increase IHR and portal hypertension in NASH cirrhotic rats.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Body Weight
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Endothelin-1 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Liver / complications
  • Fatty Liver / physiopathology*
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / metabolism
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications
  • Hypertension, Portal / physiopathology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Kupffer Cells / metabolism
  • Leptin / metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Microcirculation
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Zucker
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Endothelin-1
  • Leptin
  • RNA, Messenger