Chitinase 3-like-1 contributes to acetaminophen-induced liver injury by promoting hepatic platelet recruitment

Elife. 2021 Jun 10:10:e68571. doi: 10.7554/eLife.68571.


Background: Hepatic platelet accumulation contributes to acetaminophen (APAP)-induced liver injury (AILI). However, little is known about the molecular pathways involved in platelet recruitment to the liver and whether targeting such pathways could attenuate AILI.

Methods: Mice were fasted overnight before intraperitoneally (i.p.) injected with APAP at a dose of 210 mg/kg for male mice and 325 mg/kg for female mice. Platelets adherent to Kupffer cells were determined in both mice and patients overdosed with APAP. The impact of α-chitinase 3-like-1 (α-Chi3l1) on alleviation of AILI was determined in a therapeutic setting, and liver injury was analyzed.

Results: The present study unveiled a critical role of Chi3l1 in hepatic platelet recruitment during AILI. Increased Chi3l1 and platelets in the liver were observed in patients and mice overdosed with APAP. Compared to wild-type (WT) mice, Chil1-/- mice developed attenuated AILI with markedly reduced hepatic platelet accumulation. Mechanistic studies revealed that Chi3l1 signaled through CD44 on macrophages to induce podoplanin expression, which mediated platelet recruitment through C-type lectin-like receptor 2. Moreover, APAP treatment of Cd44-/- mice resulted in much lower numbers of hepatic platelets and liver injury than WT mice, a phenotype similar to that in Chil1-/- mice. Recombinant Chi3l1 could restore hepatic platelet accumulation and AILI in Chil1-/- mice, but not in Cd44-/- mice. Importantly, we generated anti-Chi3l1 monoclonal antibodies and demonstrated that they could effectively inhibit hepatic platelet accumulation and AILI.

Conclusions: We uncovered the Chi3l1/CD44 axis as a critical pathway mediating APAP-induced hepatic platelet recruitment and tissue injury. We demonstrated the feasibility and potential of targeting Chi3l1 to treat AILI.

Funding: ZS received funding from NSFC (32071129). FWL received funding from NIH (GM123261). ALFSG received funding from NIDDK (DK 058369). ZA received funding from CPRIT (RP150551 and RP190561) and the Welch Foundation (AU-0042-20030616). CJ received funding from NIH (DK122708, DK109574, DK121330, and DK122796) and support from a University of Texas System Translational STARs award. Portions of this work were supported with resources and the use of facilities of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and funding from Department of Veterans Affairs I01 BX002551 (Equipment, Personnel, Supplies). The contents do not represent the views of the US Department of Veterans Affairs or the US Government.

Keywords: acetaminophen; chi3l1; drug-induced liver injury; kupffer cells; medicine; mouse; platelets.

Plain language summary

Acetaminophen, also called paracetamol outside the United States, is a commonly used painkiller, with over 50 million people in the United States taking the drug weekly. While paracetamol is safe at standard doses, overdose can cause acute liver failure, which leads to 30,000 patients being admitted to emergency care in the United States each year. There is only one approved antidote to overdoses, which becomes significantly less effective if its application is delayed by more than a few hours. This has incentivized research into identify new drug targets that could lead to additional treatment options. Acetaminophen overdose triggers blood clotting and inflammation, contributing to liver injury. It also causes a decrease in cells called platelets circulating in the blood, which has been observed in both mice and humans. In mice, this occurs because platelets accumulate in the liver. Removing these excess cells appears to reduce the severity of the damage caused by acetaminophen, but it remains unclear how the drug triggers their accumulation in the liver. In 2018, researchers showed that a protein called Chi3l1 plays an important role in another form of liver damage. Shan et al. – including many of the researchers involved in the 2018 study – have examined whether the protein also contributes to acetaminophen damage in the liver. Shan et al. showed that mice lacking the gene that codes for Chi3l1 developed less severe liver injury and had fewer platelets in the liver following acetaminophen overdose. They also found that human patients with acute liver failure due to acetaminophen had high levels of Chi3l1 and significant accumulation of platelets in the liver. To test whether damage could be prevented, Shan et al. used antibodies to neutralize Chi3l1 in mice after giving them an acetaminophen overdose. This reduced platelet accumulation in the liver and the associated damage. These findings suggest that targeting Chi3l1 may be an effective strategy to prevent liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose. Further research could help develop new treatments for acetaminophen-induced liver injury and perhaps other liver conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Blood Platelets* / drug effects
  • Blood Platelets* / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury, Chronic* / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury, Chronic* / pathology
  • Chitinase-3-Like Protein 1* / metabolism
  • Chitinase-3-Like Protein 1* / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Liver* / cytology
  • Liver* / drug effects
  • Liver* / metabolism
  • Liver* / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout


  • Chil1 protein, mouse
  • Chitinase-3-Like Protein 1
  • Acetaminophen