A longitudinal study of whole body, tissue, and cellular physiology in a mouse model of fibrosing NASH with high fidelity to the human condition

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2017 Jun 1;312(6):G666-G680. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00213.2016. Epub 2017 Feb 23.


The sequence of events that lead to inflammation and fibrosing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is incompletely understood. Hence, we investigated the chronology of whole body, tissue, and cellular events that occur during the evolution of diet-induced NASH. Male C57Bl/6 mice were assigned to a fast-food (FF; high calorie, high cholesterol, high fructose) or standard-chow (SC) diet over a period of 36 wk. Liver histology, body composition, mitochondrial respiration, metabolic rate, gene expression, and hepatic lipid content were analyzed. Insulin resistance [homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)] increased 10-fold after 4 wk. Fibrosing NASH was fully established by 16 wk. Total hepatic lipids increased by 4 wk and remained two- to threefold increased throughout. Hepatic triglycerides declined from sixfold increase at 8 wk to threefold increase by 36 wk. In contrast, hepatic cholesterol levels steadily increased from baseline at 8 wk to twofold by 36 wk. The hepatic immune cell population altered over time with macrophages persisting beyond 16 wk. Mitochondrial oxygen flux rates of FF mice diet were uniformly lower with all the tested substrates (13-276 pmol·s-1·ml-1 per unit citrate synthase) than SC mice (17-394 pmol·s-1·ml-1 per unit citrate synthase) and was accompanied by decreased mitochondrial:nuclear gene copy number ratios after 4 wk. Metabolic rate was lower in FF mice. Mitochondrial glutathione was significantly decreased at 24 wk in FF mice. Expression of dismutases and catalase was also decreased in FF mice. The evolution of NASH in the FF diet-induced model is multiphasic, particularly in terms of hepatic lipid composition. Insulin resistance precedes hepatic inflammation and fibrosis. Mitochondrial dysfunction and depletion occur after the histological features of NASH are apparent. Collectively, these observations provide a unique overview of the sequence of changes that coevolve with the histological evolution of NASH.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study demonstrates in a first of kind longitudinal analysis, the evolution of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) on a fast-food diet-induced model. Key findings include 1) hepatic lipid composition changes in a multiphasic fashion as NASH evolves; 2) insulin resistance precedes hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, answering a longstanding chicken-and-egg question regarding the relationship of insulin resistance to liver histology in NASH; and 3) mitochondrial dysfunction and depletion occur after the histological features of NASH are apparent.

Keywords: fatty liver; hepatic fibrosis; inflammation metabolic function; insulin resistance; mitochondrial respiration.

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Lipids / blood
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / physiology
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / genetics
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria, Liver / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Liver / pathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Organ Size
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Gain


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Insulin
  • Lipids