Calpain-mediated proteolytic production of free amino acids in vascular endothelial cells augments obesity-induced hepatic steatosis

J Biol Chem. 2022 Jun;298(6):101953. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.101953. Epub 2022 Apr 18.


Free amino acids that accumulate in the plasma of patients with diabetes and obesity influence lipid metabolism and protein synthesis in the liver. The stress-inducible intracellular protease calpain proteolyzes various substrates in vascular endothelial cells (ECs), although its contribution to the supply of free amino acids in the liver microenvironment remains enigmatic. In the present study, we showed that calpains are associated with free amino acid production in cultured ECs. Furthermore, conditioned media derived from calpain-activated ECs facilitated the phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 kinase (S6K) and de novo lipogenesis in hepatocytes, which were abolished by the amino acid transporter inhibitor, JPH203, and the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 inhibitor, rapamycin. Meanwhile, calpain-overexpressing capillary-like ECs were observed in the livers of high-fat diet-fed mice. Conditional KO of EC/hematopoietic Capns1, which encodes a calpain regulatory subunit, diminished levels of branched-chain amino acids in the hepatic microenvironment without altering plasma amino acid levels. Concomitantly, conditional KO of Capns1 mitigated hepatic steatosis without normalizing body weight and the plasma lipoprotein profile in an amino acid transporter-dependent manner. Mice with targeted Capns1 KO exhibited reduced phosphorylation of S6K and maturation of lipogenic factor sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1 in hepatocytes. Finally, we show that bone marrow transplantation negated the contribution of hematopoietic calpain systems. We conclude that overactivation of calpain systems may be responsible for the production of free amino acids in ECs, which may be sufficient to potentiate S6K/sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1-induced lipogenesis in surrounding hepatocytes.

Keywords: calpastatin; capillarization; diabetes; inflammation; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; pathological angiogenesis; sinusoidal liver endothelial cells; steatohepatitis; triglyceride; ubiquitin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calpain* / genetics
  • Calpain* / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Fatty Liver* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipogenesis
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases / metabolism
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1 / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases
  • Calpain