Objective: We evaluated the influence of sex on the pathophysiology of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We investigated diet-induced phenotypic responses to define sex-specific regulation between healthy liver and NAFLD to identify influential pathways in different preclinical murine models and their relevance in humans.
Design: Different models of diet-induced NAFLD (high-fat diet, choline-deficient high-fat diet, Western diet or Western diet supplemented with fructose and glucose in drinking water) were compared with a control diet in male and female mice. We performed metabolic phenotyping, including plasma biochemistry and liver histology, untargeted large-scale approaches (liver metabolome, lipidome and transcriptome), gene expression profiling and network analysis to identify sex-specific pathways in the mouse liver.
Results: The different diets induced sex-specific responses that illustrated an increased susceptibility to NAFLD in male mice. The most severe lipid accumulation and inflammation/fibrosis occurred in males receiving the high-fat diet and Western diet, respectively. Sex-biased hepatic gene signatures were identified for these different dietary challenges. The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα) co-expression network was identified as sexually dimorphic, and in vivo experiments in mice demonstrated that hepatocyte PPARα determines a sex-specific response to fasting and treatment with pemafibrate, a selective PPARα agonist. Liver molecular signatures in humans also provided evidence of sexually dimorphic gene expression profiles and the sex-specific co-expression network for PPARα.
Conclusions: These findings underscore the sex specificity of NAFLD pathophysiology in preclinical studies and identify PPARα as a pivotal, sexually dimorphic, pharmacological target.
Trial registration number: NCT02390232.
Keywords: gene expression; lipid metabolism; liver metabolism; nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
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