Differential carbonylation of proteins in end-stage human fatty and nonfatty NASH

Free Radic Biol Med. 2017 Dec;113:280-290. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2017.10.004. Epub 2017 Oct 6.


Objective: In the liver, a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is oxidative stress leading to the accumulation of highly reactive electrophilic α/β unsaturated aldehydes. The objective of this study was to determine if significant differences were evident when evaluating carbonylation in human end-stage fatty nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (fNASH) compared to end-stage nonfatty NASH (nfNASH).

Methods: Using hepatic tissue obtained from healthy humans and patients diagnosed with end stage nfNASH or fNASH, overall carbonylation was assessed by immunohistochemistry (IHC) and LC-MS/MS followed by bioinformatics.

Results: Picrosirius red staining revealed extensive fibrosis in both fNASH and nfNASH which corresponded with increased reactive aldehyde staining. Although significantly elevated when compared to normal hepatic tissue, no significant differences in overall carbonylation and fibrosis were evident when comparing fNASH with nfNASH. Examining proteins that are critical for anti-oxidant defense revealed elevated expression of thioredoxin, thioredoxin interacting protein, glutathione S-transferase p1 and mitochondrial superoxide dismutase in human NASH. As important, using immunohistochemistry, significant colocalization of the aforementioned proteins occurred in cytokeratin 7 positive cells indicating that they are part of the ductular reaction. Expression of catalase and Hsp70 decreased in both groups when compared to normal human liver. Mass spectrometric analysis revealed a total of 778 carbonylated proteins. Of these, 194 were common to all groups, 124 unique to tissue prepared from healthy individuals, 357 proteins exclusive to NASH, 124 proteins distinct to samples from patients with fNASH and 178 unique to nfNASH. Using functional enrichment analysis of hepatic carbonylated proteins revealed a propensity for increased carbonylation of proteins regulating cholesterol and Huntington's disease related pathways occurred in nfNASH. Examining fNASH, increased carbonylation was evident in proteins regulating Rho cytoskeletal pathways, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor signaling and chemokine/cytokine inflammatory pathways. Using LC-MS/MS analysis and trypsin digests, sites of carbonylation were identified on peptides isolated from vimentin, endoplasmin and serum albumin in nfNASH and fNASH respectively.

Conclusions: These results indicate that cellular factors regulating mechanisms of protein carbonylation may be different depending on pathological diagnosis of NASH. Furthermore these studies are the first to use LC-MS/MS analysis of carbonylated proteins in human NAFLD and explore possible mechanistic links with end stage cirrhosis due to fatty liver disease and the generation of reactive aldehydes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aldehydes / chemistry
  • Aldehydes / metabolism
  • Azo Compounds / chemistry
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Catalase / genetics
  • Catalase / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Computational Biology
  • End Stage Liver Disease / genetics
  • End Stage Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • End Stage Liver Disease / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glutathione Transferase / genetics
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Hepatitis / genetics
  • Hepatitis / metabolism*
  • Hepatitis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Protein Carbonylation*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / genetics
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Thioredoxins / genetics
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism


  • Aldehydes
  • Azo Compounds
  • Carrier Proteins
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • TXNIP protein, human
  • C.I. direct red 80
  • Thioredoxins
  • Catalase
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • superoxide dismutase 2
  • Glutathione Transferase