Endoplasmic reticulum stress (ERS) has a pathophysiological role in obesity-associated insulin resistance. Yet, the coordinated tissue response to ERS remains unclear. Increased connexin 43 (Cx43)-mediated intercellular communication has been implicated in tissue-adaptive and -maladaptive response to various chronic stresses. Here, we demonstrate that in hepatocytes, ERS results in increased Cx43 expression and cell-cell coupling. Co-culture of ER-stressed "donor" cells resulted in intercellular transmission of ERS and dysfunction to ERS-naive "recipient" cells ("bystander response"), which could be prevented by genetic or pharmacologic suppression of Cx43. Hepatocytes from obese mice were able to transmit ERS to hepatocytes from lean mice, and mice lacking liver Cx43 were protected from diet-induced ERS, insulin resistance, and hepatosteatosis. Taken together, our results indicate that in obesity, the increased Cx43-mediated cell-cell coupling allows intercellular propagation of ERS. This novel maladaptive response to over-nutrition exacerbates the tissue ERS burden, promoting hepatosteatosis and impairing whole-body glucose metabolism.
Keywords: connexin 43; diabetes; endoplasmic reticulum stress; gap junctions; insulin resistance; intercellular communication; unfolded protein response.
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