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Cell Death Dis. 2017 Oct 26;8(10):e3152. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2017.532.

Inhibition of Caspase-8 does not protect from alcohol-induced liver apoptosis but alleviates alcoholic hepatic steatosis in mice.

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Department of Internal Medicine III, University Hospital RWTH, Aachen, Germany.
Department of Immunology, Complutense University School of Medicine, Madrid, Spain.
12 de Octubre Health Research Institute (imas12), Madrid, Spain.
Institute of Pathology, Klinikum Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany.
Electron Microscopic Facility, Medical Faculty, University Hospital RWTH Aachen, Germany.
Department of Animal Physiology II, Complutense University School of Biology, Madrid, Spain.


Hepatic apoptosis is involved in the progression of alcoholic liver disease (ALD). Caspase-8, the apical initiator in death receptor-mediated apoptosis, has been implicated in acute liver injury and in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. However, the relevance of Caspase-8 in the pathogenesis of ALD remains unclear. In the present study, we investigated the impact of Caspase-8 in human and murine alcohol-induced apoptosis and in ALD. We investigated human samples from ALD patients, primary mouse hepatocytes, and hepatocyte-specific Caspase-8 knockout (Casp8Δhepa) mice in acute and chronic models of ethanol (EtOH) administration. Caspase-8 activation was detected in liver biopsies from ALD patients, as well as in livers of wild-type (WT) mice after chronic ethanol feeding for 8 weeks using the Lieber-DeCarli model. Lack of Caspase-8 expression in Casp8Δhepa animals failed to prevent alcohol-induced liver damage and apoptosis. Instead, inhibition of Caspase-8 shifted the ethanol-induced death signals towards pronounced activation of the intrinsic, mitochondria-dependent apoptosis pathway in Casp8Δhepa livers involving enhanced release of cytochrome c, stronger Caspase-9 activation and specific morphological changes of mitochondria. In vitro and in vivo intervention using a pan-caspase inhibitor markedly attenuated alcohol-induced hepatocyte damage in a Caspase-8-independent manner. Surprisingly, EtOH-fed Casp8Δhepa mice displayed significantly attenuated steatosis and reduced hepatic triglyceride and free fatty acids content. Caspase-8 is dispensable for alcohol-induced apoptosis, but plays an unexpected role for alcohol-dependent fat metabolism. We provide evidence that simultaneous inhibition of extrinsic and intrinsic apoptosis signaling using pan-caspase inhibitors in vivo might be an optimal approach to treat alcohol-induced liver injury.

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