Increased lipogenesis in spite of upregulated hepatic 5'AMP-activated protein kinase in human non-alcoholic fatty liver

Hepatol Res. 2017 Aug;47(9):890-901. doi: 10.1111/hepr.12825. Epub 2016 Nov 18.


Aims: Molecular adaptations in human non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are incompletely understood. This study investigated the main gene categories related to hepatic de novo lipogenesis and lipid oxidation capacity.

Methods: Liver specimens of 48 subjects were histologically classified according to steatosis severity. In-depth analyses were undertaken using real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry. Lipid profiles were analyzed by gas chromatography/flame ionization detection, and effects of key fatty acids were studied in primary human hepatocytes.

Results: Real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry indicated 5'AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) to be increased with steatosis score ≥ 2 (all P < 0.05), including various markers of de novo lipogenesis and lipid degradation (all P < 0.05). Regarding endoplasmic reticulum stress, X-Box binding protein-1 (XBP1) was upregulated in steatosis score ≥ 2 (P = 0.029) and correlated with plasma palmitate (r = 0.34; P = 0.035). Palmitate incubation of primary human hepatocytes increased XBP1 and downstream stearoyl CoA desaturase-1 mRNA expression (both P < 0.05). Moreover, plasma and liver tissue exposed a NAFLD-related lipid profile with reduced polyunsaturated/saturated fatty acid ratio, increased palmitate and palmitoleate, and elevated lipogenesis and desaturation indices with steatosis score ≥ 2 (all P < 0.05).

Conclusion: In humans with advanced fatty liver disease, hepatic AMPK protein is upregulated, potentially in a compensatory manner. Moreover, pathways of lipid synthesis and degradation are co-activated in subjects with advanced steatosis. Palmitate may drive lipogenesis by activating XBP1-mediated endoplasmic reticulum stress and represent a target for future dietary or pharmacological intervention.

Keywords: AMPK; NAFLD; XBP; palmitate.