Emergence of highly profibrotic and proinflammatory Lrat+ Fbln2+ HSC subpopulation in alcoholic hepatitis

Hepatology. 2022 Oct 1. doi: 10.1002/hep.32793. Online ahead of print.


Background and aims: Relative roles of HSCs and portal fibroblasts in alcoholic hepatitis (AH) are unknown. We aimed to identify subpopulations of collagen type 1 alpha 1 (Col1a1)-expressing cells in a mouse AH model by single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and filtering the cells with the HSC (lecithin retinol acyltransferase [Lrat]) and portal fibroblast (Thy-1 cell surface antigen [Thy1] and fibulin 2 [Fbln2]) markers and vitamin A (VitA) storage.

Approach and results: Col1a1-green fluorescent protein (GFP) mice underwent AH, CCl4 , and bile duct ligation (BDL) procedures to have comparable F1-F2 liver fibrosis. Col1a1-expressing cells were sorted via FACS by VitA autofluorescence and GFP for single-cell RNA sequencing. In AH, approximately 80% of Lrat+Thy1-Fbln2- activated HSCs were VitA-depleted (vs. ~13% in BDL and CCl4 ). Supervised clustering identified a subset co-expressing Lrat and Fbln2 (Lrat+Fbln2+), which expanded 44-fold, 17-fold, and 1.3-fold in AH, BDL, and CCl4 . Lrat+Fbln2+ cells had 3-15-times inductions of profibrotic, myofibroblastic, and immunoregulatory genes versus Lrat+Fbln2- cells, but 2-4-times repressed HSC-selective genes. AH activated HSCs had up-regulated inflammatory (chemokine [C-X-C motif] ligand 2 [Cxcl2], chemokine [C-C motif] ligand 2), antimicrobial (Il-33, Zc3h12a), and antigen presentation (H2-Q6, H2-T23) genes versus BDL and CCl4 . Computational deconvolution of AH versus normal human bulk-liver RNA-sequencing data supported an expansion of LRAT+FBLN2+ cells in AH; AH patient liver immunohistochemistry showed FBLN2 staining along fibrotic septa enriched with LRAT+ cells; and in situ hybridization confirmed co-expression of FBLN2 with CXCL2 and/or human leukocyte antigen E in patient AH. Finally, HSC tracing in Lrat-Cre;Rosa26mTmG mice detected GFP+FBLN2+ cells in AH.

Conclusion: A highly profibrotic, inflammatory, and immunoregulatory Lrat+Fbln2+ subpopulation emerges from HSCs in AH and may contribute to the inflammatory and immunoreactive nature of AH.