Cholesterol-binding translocator protein TSPO regulates steatosis and bile acid synthesis in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

iScience. 2021 May 1;24(5):102457. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.102457. eCollection 2021 May 21.


Translocator protein (TSPO, 18 kDa) levels increase in parallel with the evolution of simple steatosis (SS) to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, TSPO function in SS and NASH is unknown. Loss of TSPO in hepatocytes in vitro downregulated acetyl-CoA acetyltransferase 2 and increased free cholesterol (FC). FC accumulation induced endoplasmic reticulum stress via IRE1A and protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase/ATF4/CCAAT-enhancer-binding protein homologous protein pathways and autophagy. TSPO deficiency activated cellular adaptive antioxidant protection; this adaptation was lost upon excessive FC accumulation. A TSPO ligand 19-Atriol blocked cholesterol binding and recapitulated many of the alterations seen in TSPO-deficient cells. These data suggest that TSPO deficiency accelerated the progression of SS. In NASH, however, loss of TSPO ameliorated liver fibrosis through downregulation of bile acid synthesis by reducing CYP7A1 and CYP27A1 levels and increasing farnesoid X receptor expression. These studies indicate a dynamic and complex role for TSPO in the evolution of NAFLD.

Keywords: Cell biology; Metabolomics; Molecular biology.