Engineered FGF19 eliminates bile acid toxicity and lipotoxicity leading to resolution of steatohepatitis and fibrosis in mice

Hepatol Commun. 2017 Oct 16;1(10):1024-1042. doi: 10.1002/hep4.1108. eCollection 2017 Dec.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an increasingly prevalent chronic liver disease for which no approved therapies are available. Despite intensive research, the cellular mechanisms that mediate NAFLD pathogenesis and progression are poorly understood. Although obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and related metabolic syndrome, all consequences of a Western diet lifestyle, are well-recognized risk factors for NAFLD development, dysregulated bile acid metabolism is emerging as a novel mechanism contributing to NAFLD pathogenesis. Notably, NAFLD patients exhibit a deficiency in fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19), an endocrine hormone in the gut-liver axis that controls de novo bile acid synthesis, lipogenesis, and energy homeostasis. Using a mouse model that reproduces the clinical progression of human NAFLD, including the development of simple steatosis, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and advanced "burnt-out" NASH with hepatocellular carcinoma, we demonstrate that FGF19 as well as an engineered nontumorigenic FGF19 analogue, M70, ameliorate bile acid toxicity and lipotoxicity to restore liver health. Mass spectrometry-based lipidomics analysis of livers from mice treated with FGF19 or M70 revealed significant reductions in the levels of toxic lipid species (i.e., diacylglycerols, ceramides and free cholesterol) and an increase in levels of unoxidized cardiolipins, an important component of the inner mitochondrial membrane. Furthermore, treatment with FGF19 or M70 rapidly and profoundly reduced levels of liver enzymes, resolved the histologic features of NASH, and enhanced insulin sensitivity, energy homeostasis, and lipid metabolism. Whereas FGF19 induced hepatocellular carcinoma formation following prolonged exposure in these mice, animals expressing M70 showed no evidence of liver tumorigenesis in this model. Conclusion: We have engineered an FGF19 hormone that is capable of regulating multiple pathways to deliver antisteatotic, anti-inflammatory, and antifibrotic activities and that represents a potentially promising therapeutic for patients with NASH. (Hepatology Communications 2017;1:1024-1042).