ADSCs-derived exosomes ameliorate hepatic fibrosis by suppressing stellate cell activation and remodeling hepatocellular glutamine synthetase-mediated glutamine and ammonia homeostasis

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2022 Oct 4;13(1):494. doi: 10.1186/s13287-022-03049-x.


Background: Hepatic fibrosis is a common pathologic stage in chronic liver disease development, which might ultimately lead to liver cirrhosis. Accumulating evidence suggests that adipose-derived stromal cells (ADSCs)-based therapies show excellent therapeutic potential in liver injury disease owing to its superior properties, including tissue repair ability and immunomodulation effect. However, cell-based therapy still limits to several problems, such as engraftment efficiency and immunoreaction, which impede the ADSCs-based therapeutics development. So, ADSCs-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs), especially for exosomes (ADSC-EXO), emerge as a promise cell-free therapeutics to ameliorate liver fibrosis. The effect and underlying mechanisms of ADSC-EXO in liver fibrosis remains blurred.

Methods: Hepatic fibrosis murine model was established by intraperitoneal sequential injecting the diethylnitrosamine (DEN) for two weeks and then carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) for six weeks. Subsequently, hepatic fibrosis mice were administrated with ADSC-EXO (10 μg/g) or PBS through tail vein infusion for three times in two weeks. To evaluate the anti-fibrotic capacity of ADSC-EXO, we detected liver morphology by histopathological examination, ECM deposition by serology test and Sirius Red staining, profibrogenic markers by qRT-PCR assay. LX-2 cells treated with TGF-β (10 ng/ml) for 12 h were conducted for evaluating ADSC-EXO effect on activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). RNA-seq was performed for further analysis of the underlying regulatory mechanisms of ADSC-EXO in liver fibrosis.

Results: In this study, we obtained isolated ADSCs, collected and separated ADSCs-derived exosomes. We found that ADSC-EXO treatment could efficiently ameliorate DEN/CCl4-induced hepatic fibrosis by improving mice liver function and lessening hepatic ECM deposition. Moreover, ADSC-EXO intervention could reverse profibrogenic phenotypes both in vivo and in vitro, including HSCs activation depressed and profibrogenic markers inhibition. Additionally, RNA-seq analysis further determined that decreased glutamine synthetase (Glul) of perivenous hepatocytes in hepatic fibrosis mice could be dramatically up-regulated by ADSC-EXO treatment; meanwhile, glutamine and ammonia metabolism-associated key enzyme OAT was up-regulated and GLS2 was down-regulated by ADSC-EXO treatment in mice liver. In addition, glutamine synthetase inhibitor would erase ADSC-EXO therapeutic effect on hepatic fibrosis.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrated that ADSC-derived exosomes could efficiently alleviate hepatic fibrosis by suppressing HSCs activation and remodeling glutamine and ammonia metabolism mediated by hepatocellular glutamine synthetase, which might be a novel and promising anti-fibrotic therapeutics for hepatic fibrosis disease.

Keywords: Adipose-derived stromal cells; Exosomes; Glutamine synthetase; Hepatic fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carbon Tetrachloride / toxicity
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / pathology
  • Diethylnitrosamine / adverse effects
  • Exosomes* / metabolism
  • Fibrosis
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells
  • Homeostasis
  • Liver Cirrhosis / chemically induced
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Mice
  • Stromal Cells / pathology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Glutamine
  • Diethylnitrosamine
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase