Worldwide, over a billion people suffer from chronic liver diseases, which often lead to fibrosis and then cirrhosis. Treatments for fibrosis remain experimental, in part because no unifying mechanism has been identified that initiates liver fibrosis. Necroptosis has been implicated in multiple liver diseases. Here, we report that O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) modification protects against hepatocyte necroptosis and initiation of liver fibrosis. Decreased O-GlcNAc levels were seen in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis and in mice with ethanol-induced liver injury. Liver-specific O-GlcNAc transferase-KO (OGT-LKO) mice exhibited hepatomegaly and ballooning degeneration at an early age and progressed to liver fibrosis and portal inflammation by 10 weeks of age. OGT-deficient hepatocytes underwent excessive necroptosis and exhibited elevated protein expression levels of receptor-interacting protein kinase 3 (RIPK3) and mixed lineage kinase domain-like (MLKL), which are key mediators of necroptosis. Furthermore, glycosylation of RIPK3 by OGT is associated with reduced RIPK3 protein stability. Taken together, these findings identify OGT as a key suppressor of hepatocyte necroptosis, and OGT-LKO mice may serve as an effective spontaneous genetic model of liver fibrosis.
Keywords: Fibrosis; Hepatology; Inflammation; Liver cancer; Signal transduction.