Alpha-1-antitrypsin (a1AT) deficiency is caused by homozygosity for the a1AT mutant Z gene and occurs in 1 in 2000 births. The Z mutation confers an abnormal conformation on the protein, resulting in an accumulation within the endoplasmic reticulum of hepatocytes rather than appropriate secretion. The accumulation of the mutant protein is strikingly heterogeneous within the liver. Homozygous ZZ children and adults have an increased risk of chronic liver disease, which is thought to result from this variable intracellular accumulation of the a1AT mutant Z protein. Previous reports have suggested that autophagy, mitochondrial injury, apoptosis, and other pathways may be involved in the mechanism of hepatocyte injury, although the interplay of these mechanisms in vivo is unclear. In this study, we examine a well-characterized in vivo model of a1AT mutant Z liver injury, the PiZ mouse, to better understand the pathways involved in this disease. The results show an increase in the stimulation of the apoptotic cascade in hepatocytes, the magnitude of which strongly correlates to the absolute amount of the a1AT mutant Z protein accumulated within the individual cell. Increases in apoptotic regulatory proteins are also detected. Conclusion: These data, combined with previous work, permit for the first time the construction of a hypothetical hepatocellular injury cascade for this disease involving mitochondrial injury, caspase activation, and apoptosis, which takes into account the heterogeneous nature of the mutant Z protein accumulation within the liver. Further development of this hypothetical cascade will focus future research on this and other metabolic liver diseases. (HEPATOLOGY 2007.)