Fatty acid and endotoxin activate inflammasomes in mouse hepatocytes that release danger signals to stimulate immune cells


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • This work was supported by grant DK075635 (Gyongyi Szabo), and the core resources supported by the Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center grant DK32520 were also used (Gyongyi Szabo is a member of the Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center of the University of Massachusetts).


The pathogenesis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and inflammasome activation involves sequential hits. The inflammasome, which cleaves pro–interleukin-1β (pro–IL-1β) into secreted IL-1β, is induced by endogenous and exogenous danger signals. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a toll-like receptor 4 ligand, plays a role in NASH and also activates the inflammasome. In this study, we hypothesized that the inflammasome is activated in NASH by multiple hits involving endogenous and exogenous danger signals. Using mouse models of methionine choline–deficient (MCD) diet–induced NASH and high-fat diet–induced NASH, we found up-regulation of the inflammasome [including NACHT, LRR, and PYD domains–containing protein 3 (NALP3; cryopyrin), apoptosis-associated speck-like CARD-domain containing protein, pannexin-1, and pro–caspase-1] at the messenger RNA (mRNA) level increased caspase-1 activity, and mature IL-1β protein levels in mice with steatohepatitis in comparison with control livers. There was no inflammasome activation in mice with only steatosis. The MCD diet sensitized mice to LPS-induced increases in NALP3, pannexin-1, IL-1β mRNA, and mature IL-1β protein levels in the liver. We demonstrate for the first time that inflammasome activation occurs in isolated hepatocytes in steatohepatitis. Our novel data show that the saturated fatty acid (FA) palmitic acid (PA) activates the inflammasome and induces sensitization to LPS-induced IL-1β release in hepatocytes. Furthermore, PA triggers the release of danger signals from hepatocytes in a caspase-dependent manner. These hepatocyte-derived danger signals, in turn, activate inflammasome, IL-1β, and tumor necrosis factor α release in liver mononuclear cells. Conclusion: Our novel findings indicate that saturated FAs represent an endogenous danger in the form of a first hit, up-regulate the inflammasome in NASH, and induce sensitization to a second hit with LPS for IL-β release in hepatocytes. Furthermore, hepatocytes exposed to saturated FAs release danger signals that trigger inflammasome activation in immune cells. Thus, hepatocytes play a key role in orchestrating tissue responses to danger signals in NASH. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)