Discovery of therapeutic agents targeting PKLR for NAFLD using drug repositioning

EBioMedicine. 2022 Sep:83:104214. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104214. Epub 2022 Aug 18.


Background: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) encompasses a wide spectrum of liver pathologies. However, no medical treatment has been approved for the treatment of NAFLD. In our previous study, we found that PKLR could be a potential target for treatment of NALFD. Here, we investigated the effect of PKLR in in vivo model and performed drug repositioning to identify a drug candidate for treatment of NAFLD.

Methods: Tissue samples from liver, muscle, white adipose and heart were obtained from control and PKLR knockout mice fed with chow and high sucrose diets. Lipidomics as well as transcriptomics analyses were conducted using these tissue samples. In addition, a computational drug repositioning analysis was performed and drug candidates were identified. The drug candidates were both tested in in vitro and in vivo models to evaluate their toxicity and efficacy.

Findings: The Pklr KO reversed the increased hepatic triglyceride level in mice fed with high sucrose diet and partly recovered the transcriptomic changes in the liver as well as in other three tissues. Both liver and white adipose tissues exhibited dysregulated circadian transcriptomic profiles, and these dysregulations were reversed by hepatic knockout of Pklr. In addition, 10 small molecule drug candidates were identified as potential inhibitor of PKLR using our drug repositioning pipeline, and two of them significantly inhibited both the PKLR expression and triglyceride level in in vitro model. Finally, the two selected small molecule drugs were evaluated in in vivo rat models and we found that these drugs attenuate the hepatic steatosis without side effect on other tissues.

Interpretation: In conclusion, our study provided biological insights about the critical role of PKLR in NAFLD progression and proposed a treatment strategy for NAFLD patients, which has been validated in preclinical studies.

Funding: ScandiEdge Therapeutics and Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Keywords: Circadian rhythms; Drug repositioning; NAFLD; PKLR; Systems biology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Sucrose / metabolism
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Triglycerides
  • Sucrose