Cinnabarinic Acid Provides Hepatoprotection Against Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2022 Oct;383(1):32-43. doi: 10.1124/jpet.122.001301. Epub 2022 Aug 6.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a chronic condition in which excess lipids accumulate in the liver and can lead to a range of progressive liver disorders including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. While lifestyle and diet modifications have proven to be effective as NAFLD treatments, they are not sustainable in the long-term, and currently no pharmacological therapies are approved to treat NAFLD. Our previous studies demonstrated that cinnabarinic acid (CA), a novel endogenous Aryl hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) agonist, activates the AhR target gene, Stanniocalcin 2, and confers cytoprotection against a plethora of ER/oxidative stressors. In this study, the hepatoprotective and anti-steatotic properties of CA were examined against free fatty-acid-induced in vitro and high-fat-diet fed in vivo NAFLD models. The results demonstrated that CA treatment significantly lowered weight gain and attenuated hepatic lipotoxicity both before and after the established fatty liver, thereby protecting against steatosis, inflammation, and liver injury. CA mitigated intracellular free fatty acid uptake concomitant with the downregulation of CD36/fatty acid translocase. Genes involved in fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis were also downregulated in response to CA treatment. Additionally, suppressing AhR and Stc2 expression using RNA interference in vitro verified that the hepatoprotective effects of CA were absolutely dependent on both AhR and its target, Stc2. Collectively, our results demonstrate that the endogenous AhR agonist, CA, confers hepatoprotection against NAFLD by regulating hepatic fatty acid uptake and lipogenesis. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: In this study using in vitro and in vivo models, we demonstrate that cinnabarinic acid (CA), an endogenous AhR agonist, provides protection against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. CA bestows cytoprotection against steatosis and liver injury by controlling expression of several key genes associated with lipid metabolism pathways, limiting the hepatic lipid uptake, and controlling liver inflammation. Moreover, CA-induced hepatoprotection is absolutely dependent on AhR and Stc2 expression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / metabolism
  • Oxazines


  • Fatty Acids
  • Oxazines
  • cinnabarinic acid