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Gastroenterology. 2008 Jan;134(1):248-58. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2007.09.034. Epub 2007 Sep 29.

Abrogation of the antifibrotic effects of natural killer cells/interferon-gamma contributes to alcohol acceleration of liver fibrosis.

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Section on Liver Biology, Laboratory of Physiologic Studies, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.



Chronic alcohol drinking accelerates liver fibrosis in patients with viral hepatitis that cannot be fully explained by ethanol-enhanced liver damage. Here, we identified a novel mechanism by which alcohol accelerates liver fibrosis: inhibition of the antifibrotic effects of natural killer (NK) cells and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma).


Alcohol administration was achieved by feeding mice with a liquid diet containing 5% ethanol for 8 weeks. Liver fibrosis was induced by administration of carbon tetrachloride (CCl(4)) for 2 weeks. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) were also isolated and cultured for in vitro studies.


CCl(4) treatment induced greater fibrosis and less apoptosis of HSCs in ethanol-fed mice compared with pair-fed mice. Polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (Poly I:C) or IFN-gamma treatment inhibited liver fibrosis in pair-fed but not in ethanol-fed mice. Poly I:C activation of NK cell cytotoxicity against HSCs was attenuated in ethanol-fed mice compared with pair-fed mice, which was due to reduced natural killer group 2 member D (NKG2D), tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand, and IFN-gamma expression on NK cells from ethanol-fed mice. In vitro, HSCs from ethanol-fed mice were resistant to IFN-gamma-induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis compared with pair-fed mice. Such resistance was due to diminished IFN-gamma activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1) in HSCs from ethanol-fed mice caused by the induction of suppressors of cytokine signaling proteins and the production of oxidative stress. Finally, HSCs from ethanol-fed mice were resistant to NK cell killing, which can be reversed by transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) neutralizing antibody.


Chronic ethanol consumption attenuates the antifibrotic effects of NK/IFN-gamma/STAT1 in the liver, representing new and different therapeutic targets with which to treat alcoholic liver fibrosis.

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