Nicotinamide N-methyltransferase upregulation via the mTORC1-ATF4 pathway activation contributes to palmitate-induced lipotoxicity in hepatocytes

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2021 Sep 1;321(3):C585-C595. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00195.2021. Epub 2021 Aug 11.


Defined as the dysfunction and/or cell death caused by toxic lipids accumulation in hepatocytes, hepatic lipotoxicity plays a pathological role in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying lipotoxicity remain to be elucidated. In this study, using AML12 cells, a nontransformed murine hepatocyte cell line, exposed to palmitate (a 16-C saturated fatty acid) as an experimental model, we investigated the role and mechanisms of nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT), a methyltransferase catalyzing nicotinamide methylation and degradation, in hepatic lipotoxicity. We initially identified activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) as a major transcription factor for hepatic NNMT expression. Here, we demonstrated that palmitate upregulates NNMT expression via activating ATF4 in a mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1)-dependent mechanism in that mTORC1 inhibition by both Torin1 and rapamycin attenuated ATF4 activation and NNMT upregulation. We further demonstrated that the mTORC1-dependent ATF4 activation is an integral signaling event of unfolded protein response (UPR) as both ATF4 activation and NNMT upregulation by tunicamycin, a well-documented endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress inducer, are blunted when hepatocytes were pretreated with Torin1. Importantly, our data uncovered that NNMT upregulation contributes to palmitate-induced hepatotoxicity as NNMT inhibition, via either pharmacological (NNMT inhibitors) or genetic approach (siRNA transfection), provided protection against palmitate lipotoxicity. Our further mechanistic exploration identified protein kinase A (PKA) activation to contribute, at least, partially to the protective effect of NNMT inhibition against lipotoxicity. Collectively, our data demonstrated that NNMT upregulation by the mTORC1-ATF4 pathway activation contributes to the development of lipotoxicity in hepatocytes.

Keywords: ATF4; NNMT; PKA; lipotoxicity; mTORC1; palmitate.