Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) data demonstrate that sevoflurane postconditioning improves clinical outcomes of liver resection with inflow occlusion, presumably due to hepatocyte protection from ischemic injury. However, mechanisms remain unclear. This study examines liver biopsy samples obtained in an RCT of sevoflurane postconditioning to test the hypothesis that sevoflurane attenuates hepatocyte apoptosis.
Methods: Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) of pro- and antiapoptotic regulators Bax and B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl2) was examined in hepatic biopsies obtained during the RCT. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and hepatocytes were exposed to hypoxia/reoxygenation (H/R) in vitro to evaluate the effect of sevoflurane postconditioning on apoptosis. The role of HSC as a potential apoptosis trigger in hepatocytes through the production of reactive oxygen species induced by H/R was explored by transferring supernatants from H/R-exposed HSC to hepatocytes as target cells.
Results: In patients of the RCT, the Bax/Bcl2 mRNA ratio in liver tissue was markedly decreased in the sevoflurane arm (25% ± 21% reduction; P = .001). In vitro, H/R increased reactive oxygen species production in HSC by 33% ± 16% (P = .025), while it was abolished in the presence of sevoflurane (P < .001). In hepatocytes, caspase was minimally activated by H/R. However, incubation of hepatocytes with supernatants of HSC, previously exposed to H/R, increased caspase activity by 28% ± 13% (P < .001). When exposed to supernatants from HSC undergoing sevoflurane postconditioning, caspase activation in hepatocytes was reduced by 20% ± 9% (P < .001), similarly to the sevoflurane effect on the BAX/Bcl2 mRNA ratio in the liver samples.
Conclusions: The study shows that sevoflurane postconditioning affects apoptosis of hepatocytes after ischemia-reperfusion injury in patients. It also demonstrates that HSC may be the effector cells of sevoflurane protection.