Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have been growingly recognized as biomarkers and mediators of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) in human and mice. Here we characterized hepatocyte-derived EVs (HC-EVs) and their cargo for their biological functions in a novel murine model that closely resembles liver pathology observed in patients with alcoholic hepatitis (AH), the most severe spectrum of ALD. The numbers of circulating EVs and HC-EVs were significantly increased by 10-fold in AH mice compared with control mice. The miRNA (miR)-seq analysis detected 20 upregulated and 4 downregulated miRNAs (P < 0.001-0.05) in AH-HC-EVs. Treatment of murine primary hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) with AH-HC-EVs induced α-SMA (P < 0.05) and Col1a1 (P < 0.001). Smad7 and Nr1d2 genes, which were downregulated in HSCs from the AH mice, were predicted targets of 20 miRs upregulated in AH-HC-EVs. Among them were miR-27a and miR-181 which upon transfection in HSCs, indeed repressed Nr1d2, the quiescent HSC marker. AH-HC-EVs were also enriched with organelle proteins and mitochondrial DNA (10-fold, P < 0.05) and upregulated IL-1β and IL-17 production by hepatic macrophages (HMs) from AH mice in a TLR9-dependent manner. These results demonstrate HC-EV release is intensified in AH and suggest that AH-HC-EVs orchestrate liver fibrogenesis by directly targeting the quiescent HSC transcripts via a unique set of miRNAs and by amplifying HSC activation via DAMP-based induction of profibrogenic IL-1β and IL-17 by HMs. KEY MESSAGES: • Circulating EVs and HC-EVs were increased in AH mice compared with control mice • AH-HC-EVs were enriched in miRNAs, organelle proteins, and mitochondrial DNA • AH-HC-EVs increased cytokine production by AH-HMs in a TLR9-dependent manner.
Keywords: AH; DAMPs; HSC activation; Hepatic macrophage activation; Hepatocyte-derived EVs; miRNAs.