Liver Activation of Hepatocellular Nuclear Factor-4α by Small Activating RNA Rescues Dyslipidemia and Improves Metabolic Profile

Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2020 Mar 6;19:361-370. doi: 10.1016/j.omtn.2019.10.044. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) culminates in insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Because there are no approved pharmacological treatment agents for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and NAFLD, different signaling pathways are under investigation for drug development with the focus on metabolic pathways. Hepatocyte nuclear factor 4-alpha (HNF4A) is at the center of a complex transcriptional network where its disruption is directly linked to glucose and lipid metabolism. Resetting HNF4A expression in NAFLD is therefore crucial for re-establishing normal liver function. Here, small activating RNA (saRNA) specific for upregulating HNF4A was injected into rats fed a high-fat diet for 16 weeks. Intravenous delivery was carried out using 5-(G5)-triethanolamine-core polyamidoamine (PAMAM) dendrimers. We observed a significant reduction in liver triglyceride, increased high-density lipoprotein/low-density lipoprotein (HDL/LDL) ratio, and decreased white adipose tissue/body weight ratio, all parameters to suggest that HNF4A-saRNA treatment induced a favorable metabolic profile. Proteomic analysis showed significant regulation of genes involved in sphingolipid metabolism, fatty acid β-oxidation, ketogenesis, detoxification of reactive oxygen species, and lipid transport. We demonstrate that HNF4A activation by oligonucleotide therapy may represent a novel single agent for the treatment of NAFLD and insulin resistance.

Keywords: HNF4A; NAFLD; fatty liver disease; nanoparticles; oligonucleotides; small activating RNA.