Mechanism of action of the antifibrogenic compound gliotoxin in rat liver cells



Gliotoxin has been shown to promote a reversal of liver fibrosis in an animal model of the disease although its mechanism of action in the liver is poorly defined. The effects of gliotoxin on activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and hepatocytes have therefore been examined. Addition of gliotoxin (1.5 μM) to culture-activated HSCs resulted in its rapid accumulation, resulting in increased levels of glutathione and apoptosis without any evidence of oxidative stress. In contrast, although hepatocytes also rapidly sequestered gliotoxin, cell death only occurred at high (50-μM) concentrations of gliotoxin and by necrosis. At high concentrations, gliotoxin was metabolized by hepatocytes to a reduced (dithiol) metabolite and glutathione was rapidly oxidized. Fluorescent dye loading experiments showed that gliotoxin caused oxidative stress in hepatocytes. Antioxidants—but not thiol redox active compounds—inhibited both oxidative stress and necrosis in hepatocytes. In contrast, HSC apoptosis was not affected by antioxidants but was potently abrogated by thiol redox active compounds. The adenine nucleotide transporter (ANT) is implicated in mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis. HSCs expressed predominantly nonliver ANT isoform 1, and gliotoxin treatment resulted in a thiol redox-dependent alteration in ANT mobility in HSC extracts, but not hepatocyte extracts. In conclusion, these data suggest that gliotoxin stimulates the apoptosis of HSCs through a specific thiol redox-dependent interaction with the ANT. Further understanding of this mechanism of cell death will aid in finding therapeutics that specifically stimulate HSC apoptosis in the liver, a promising approach to antifibrotic therapy. Supplementary material for this article can be found on the HEPATOLOGY website ( (HEPATOLOGY 2004;40:232–242.)