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Abstract

Previous studies demonstrated that targeted deletion of the Ron receptor tyrosine kinase (TK) domain in mice leads to marked hepatocyte protection in a well-characterized model of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced acute liver failure in D-galactosamine (GalN)-sensitized mice. Hepatocyte protection in TK−/− mice was observed despite paradoxically elevated serum levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). To understand the role of Ron in the liver, purified populations of Kupffer cells and hepatocytes from wildtype (TK+/+) and TK−/− mice were studied. Utilizing quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we demonstrated that Ron is expressed in these cell types. Moreover, we also recapitulated the protected hepatocyte phenotype and exaggerated cytokine production observed in the TK−/− mice in vivo through the use of purified cultured cells ex vivo. We show that isolated TK−/− Kupffer cells produce increased levels of TNF-α and select cytokines compared to TK+/+ cells following LPS stimulation. We also show that conditioned media from LPS-treated TK−/− Kupffer cells was more toxic to hepatocytes than control media, suggesting the exaggerated levels of cytokines produced from the TK−/− Kupffer cells are detrimental to wildtype hepatocytes. In addition, we observed that TK−/− hepatocytes were more resistant to cell death compared to TK+/+ hepatocytes, suggesting that Ron functions in both the epithelial and inflammatory cell compartments to regulate acute liver injury. These findings were confirmed in vivo in mice with hepatocyte and macrophage cell-type-specific conditional Ron deletions. Mice with Ron loss selectively in hepatocytes exhibited less liver damage and increased survival compared to mice with Ron loss in macrophages. Conclusion: We dissected cell-type-specific roles for Ron such that this receptor modulates cytokine production from Kupffer cells and inhibits hepatocyte survival in response to injury. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)