Dietary Lipids Differentially Shape Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Progression and the Transcriptome of Kupffer Cells and Infiltrating Macrophages

Hepatology. 2019 Jul;70(1):67-83. doi: 10.1002/hep.30401. Epub 2019 Feb 27.


A crucial component of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) pathogenesis is lipid stress, which may contribute to hepatic inflammation and activation of innate immunity in the liver. However, little is known regarding how dietary lipids, including fat and cholesterol, may facilitate innate immune activation in vivo. We hypothesized that dietary fat and cholesterol drive NAFLD progression to steatohepatitis and hepatic fibrosis by altering the transcription and phenotype of hepatic macrophages. This hypothesis was tested by using RNA-sequencing methods to characterize and analyze sort-purified hepatic macrophage populations that were isolated from mice fed diets with varying amounts of fat and cholesterol. The addition of cholesterol to a high-fat diet triggered hepatic pathology reminiscent of advanced nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in humans characterized by signs of cholesterol dysregulation, generation of oxidized low-density lipoprotein, increased recruitment of hepatic macrophages, and significant fibrosis. RNA-sequencing analyses of hepatic macrophages in this model revealed that dietary cholesterol induced a tissue repair and regeneration phenotype in Kupffer cells (KCs) and recruited infiltrating macrophages to a greater degree than fat. Furthermore, comparison of diseased KCs and infiltrating macrophages revealed that these two macrophage subsets are transcriptionally diverse. Finally, direct stimulation of murine and human macrophages with oxidized low-density lipoprotein recapitulated some of the transcriptional changes observed in the RNA-sequencing study. These findings indicate that fat and cholesterol synergize to alter macrophage phenotype, and they also challenge the dogma that KCs are purely proinflammatory in NASH. Conclusion: This comprehensive view of macrophage populations in NASH indicates mechanisms by which cholesterol contributes to NASH progression and identifies potential therapeutic targets for this common disease.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Disease Progression
  • Hepatitis / etiology
  • Kupffer Cells / metabolism*
  • Kupffer Cells / ultrastructure
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Transcriptome


  • Cholesterol, Dietary