Hepatocyte-specific Keap1 deletion reduces liver steatosis but not inflammation during non-alcoholic steatohepatitis development

Free Radic Biol Med. 2016 Feb:91:114-26. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2015.12.014. Epub 2015 Dec 15.


Generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to fatty acids accumulation has been classically proposed as a possible "second hit" triggering progression from simple steatosis to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In this study we challenged hepatocyte-specific Keap1 knockout mice (Keap1(Δhepa)) and littermate Cre- controls (Keap1(fx/fx)) with two different diet models of NASH in order to evaluate the effects of the anti-oxidant transcription factor Nrf2 over-activation on hepatic metabolism and disease progression. After 4 weeks of MCD diet the liver/body weight ratio of Keap1(Δhepa) mice was significantly higher compared to littermate controls with no differences in total body weight. Strikingly, liver histology revealed a dramatic reduction of lipid droplets confirmed by a decreased content of intra-hepatic triglycerides in Keap1(Δhepa) compared to controls. In parallel to reduced expression of genes involved in lipid droplet formation, protein expression of Liver X Receptor (LXRα/β) and Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα) was significantly decreased. In contrast, genes involved in mitochondrial lipid catabolism were markedly up-regulated in Keap1(Δhepa) livers. A similar phenotype characterized by inhibition of lipogenesis in favor of increased mitochondrial catabolic activity was also observed after 13 weeks of western diet administration. MCD-induced apoptosis was significantly dampened in Keap1(Δhepa) compared to Keap1(fx/fx) as detected by TUNEL, cleaved caspase-3 and Bcl-2 protein expression analyses. However, no differences in inflammatory F4/80- and CD11b-positive cells and pro-fibrogenic genes were detected between the two groups. Although hepatic lack of Keap1 did not ameliorate inflammation, the resulting constitutive Nrf2 over-activation in hepatocytes strongly reduced hepatic steatosis via enhanced lipid catabolism and repressed de novo lipogenesis during murine NASH development.

Keywords: Bcl-2; LXRα/β; Lipid metabolism; Nrf2; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / genetics
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / metabolism*
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / blood
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / immunology
  • Organ Size
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Keap1 protein, mouse
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Nfe2l2 protein, mouse
  • Cholesterol