In women, excess androgen causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common fertility disorder with comorbid metabolic dysfunctions including diabetes, obesity, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Using a PCOS mouse model, this study shows that chronic high androgen levels cause hepatic steatosis while hepatocyte-specific androgen receptor (AR)-knockout rescues this phenotype. Moreover, through RNA-sequencing and metabolomic studies, we have identified key metabolic genes and pathways affected by hyperandrogenism. Our studies reveal that a large number of metabolic genes are directly regulated by androgens through AR binding to androgen response element sequences on the promoter region of these genes. Interestingly, a number of circadian genes are also differentially regulated by androgens. In vivo and in vitro studies using a circadian reporter [Period2::Luciferase (Per2::LUC)] mouse model demonstrate that androgens can directly disrupt the hepatic timing system, which is a key regulator of liver metabolism. Consequently, studies show that androgens decrease H3K27me3, a gene silencing mark on the promoter of core clock genes, by inhibiting the expression of histone methyltransferase, Ezh2, while inducing the expression of the histone demethylase, JMJD3, which is responsible for adding and removing the H3K27me3 mark, respectively. Finally, we report that under hyperandrogenic conditions, some of the same circadian/metabolic genes that are upregulated in the mouse liver are also elevated in nonhuman primate livers. In summary, these studies not only provide an overall understanding of how hyperandrogenism associated with PCOS affects liver gene expression and metabolism but also offer insight into the underlying mechanisms leading to hepatic steatosis in PCOS.
Keywords: NAFLD; PCOS; androgen; androgen receptor; circadian clock; liver.
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