The impact of cortisol in steatotic and non-steatotic liver surgery

J Cell Mol Med. 2017 Oct;21(10):2344-2358. doi: 10.1111/jcmm.13156. Epub 2017 Apr 4.


The intent of this study was to examine the effects of regulating cortisol levels on damage and regeneration in livers with and without steatosis subjected to partial hepatectomy under ischaemia-reperfusion. Ultimately, we found that lean animals undergoing liver resection displayed no changes in cortisol, whereas cortisol levels in plasma, liver and adipose tissue were elevated in obese animals undergoing such surgery. Such elevations were attributed to enzymatic upregulation, ensuring cortisol production, and downregulation of enzymes controlling cortisol clearance. In the absence of steatosis, exogenous cortisol administration boosted circulating cortisol, while inducing clearance of hepatic cortisol, thus maintaining low cortisol levels and preventing related hepatocellular harm. In the presence of steatosis, cortisol administration was marked by a substantial rise in intrahepatic availability, thereby exacerbating tissue damage and regenerative failure. The injurious effects of cortisol were linked to high hepatic acethylcholine levels. Upon administering an α7 nicotinic acethylcholine receptor antagonist, no changes in terms of tissue damage or regenerative lapse were apparent in steatotic livers. However, exposure to an M3 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist protected livers against damage, enhancing parenchymal regeneration and survival rate. These outcomes for the first time provide new mechanistic insight into surgically altered steatotic livers, underscoring the compelling therapeutic potential of cortisol-acetylcholine-M3 muscarinic receptors.

Keywords: Partial hepatectomy; acetylcholine; cortisol; ischaemia-reperfusion; liver; steatosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cholinergic Agonists / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Fatty Liver / blood
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism
  • Fatty Liver / surgery*
  • Hepatectomy / methods*
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Liver / surgery*
  • Liver Regeneration / drug effects
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Reperfusion Injury / blood
  • Reperfusion Injury / metabolism
  • Reperfusion Injury / physiopathology


  • Cholinergic Agonists
  • Acetylcholine
  • Hydrocortisone