Dopamine receptor D2 antagonism normalizes profibrotic macrophage-endothelial crosstalk in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis

J Hepatol. 2022 Feb;76(2):394-406. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2021.09.032. Epub 2021 Oct 11.


Background & aims: Currently there is no effective treatment for liver fibrosis, which is one of the main histological determinants of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). While Hippo/YAP (Yes-associated protein) signaling is essential for liver regeneration, its aberrant activation frequently leads to fibrosis and tumorigenesis. Unravelling "context-specific" contributions of YAP in liver repair might help selectively bypass fibrosis and preserve the pro-regenerative YAP function in hepatic diseases.

Methods: We used murine liver fibrosis and minipig NASH models, and liver biopsies from patients with cirrhosis. Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-Seq) was performed, and a G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) ligand screening system was used to identify cell-selective YAP inhibitors.

Results: YAP levels in macrophages are increased in the livers of humans and mice with liver fibrosis. The increase in type I interferon and attenuation of hepatic fibrosis observed in mice specifically lacking Yap1 in myeloid cells provided further evidence for the fibrogenic role of macrophage YAP. ScRNA-Seq further showed that defective YAP pathway signaling in macrophages diminished a fibrogenic vascular endothelial cell subset that exhibited profibrotic molecular signatures such as angiocrine CTGF and VCAM1 expression. To specifically target fibrogenic YAP in macrophages, we utilized a GPCR ligand screening system and identified a dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2) antagonist that selectively blocked YAP in macrophages but not hepatocytes. Genetic and pharmacological targeting of macrophage DRD2 attenuated liver fibrosis. In a large animal (minipig) NASH model recapitulating human pathology, the DRD2 antagonist blocked fibrosis and restored hepatic architecture.

Conclusions: DRD2 antagonism selectively targets YAP-dependent fibrogenic crosstalk between macrophages and CTGF+VCAM1+ vascular niche, promoting liver regeneration over fibrosis in both rodent and large animal models.

Lay summary: Fibrosis in the liver is one of the main histological determinants of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a disease paralleling a worldwide surge in metabolic syndromes. Our study demonstrates that a macrophage-specific deficiency in Yes-associated protein (YAP) attenuates liver fibrosis. Dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2) antagonism selectively blocks YAP in macrophages and thwarts liver fibrosis in both rodent and large animal models, and thus holds potential for the treatment of NASH.

Keywords: Hippo/YAP signaling; dopamine receptor D2; endothelial cell; intrahepatic macrophage; liver fibrosis; non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH); type I interferon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy
  • Liver Cirrhosis / genetics*
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / drug therapy
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Swine
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins / therapeutic use


  • DRD2 protein, human
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins