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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 Oct;1811(10):626-33. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2010.11.001. Epub 2010 Nov 8.

Lipid accumulation impairs adiponectin-mediated induction of activin A by increasing TGFbeta in primary human hepatocytes.

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Department of Internal Medicine I, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.


Fatty liver is commonly detected in obesity and has been identified as a risk factor for the progression of hepatic fibrosis in a wide range of liver diseases. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) and activin A, both members of the TGFβ superfamiliy, are central regulators in liver fibrosis and regeneration, and the effect of hepatocyte lipid accumulation on the release of these proteins was studied. Primary human hepatocytes (PHH) were incubated with palmitic acid or oleic acid to increase lipid storage. Whereas activin A and its natural inhibitor follistatin were not affected, TGFβ was 2-fold increased. The hepatoprotective adipokine adiponectin dose-dependently induced activin A while lowering follistatin but did not alter TGFβ. Activin A was markedly reduced in hepatocyte cell lines compared to PHH and was not induced upon adiponectin incubation demonstrating significant differences of primary and transformed cells. In free fatty acid (FFA)-incubated PHH adiponectin-mediated induction of activin A was impaired. Inhibition of TGFβ receptors ALK4/5 and blockage of SMAD3 phosphorylation rescued activin A synthesis in FFA and in TGFβ incubated cells suggesting that FFA inhibit adiponectin activity by inducing TGFβ. To evaluate whether serum levels of activin A and its antagonist are altered in patients with hepatic steatosis, both proteins were measured in the serum of patients with sonographically diagnosed fatty liver and age- and BMI-matched controls. Systemic adiponectin was significantly reduced in patients with fatty liver but activin A and follistatin were not altered. In summary the current data demonstrate that lipid accumulation in hepatocytes induces TGFβ which impairs adiponectin bioactivity, and thereby may contribute to liver injury.

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