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Abstract

The majority of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) have “simple steatosis,” which is defined by hepatic steatosis in the absence of substantial inflammation or fibrosis and is considered to be benign. However, 10%-30% of patients with NAFLD progress to fibrosing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is characterized by varying degrees of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, in addition to hepatic steatosis, and can lead to cirrhosis. The cause(s) of progression to fibrosing steatohepatitis are unclear. We aimed to test the relative contributions of dietary fat and dietary cholesterol and their interaction on the development of NASH. We assigned C57BL/6J mice to four diets for 30 weeks: control (4% fat and 0% cholesterol); high cholesterol (HC; 4% fat and 1% cholesterol); high fat (HF; 15% fat and 0% cholesterol); and high fat, high cholesterol (HFHC; 15% fat and 1% cholesterol). The HF and HC diets led to increased hepatic fat deposition with little inflammation and no fibrosis (i.e., simple hepatic steatosis). However, the HFHC diet led to significantly more profound hepatic steatosis, substantial inflammation, and perisinusoidal fibrosis (i.e., steatohepatitis), associated with adipose tissue inflammation and a reduction in plasma adiponectin levels. In addition, the HFHC diet led to other features of human NASH, including hypercholesterolemia and obesity. Hepatic and metabolic effects induced by dietary fat and cholesterol together were more than twice as great as the sum of the separate effects of each dietary component alone, demonstrating significant positive interaction. Conclusion: Dietary fat and dietary cholesterol interact synergistically to induce the metabolic and hepatic features of NASH, whereas neither factor alone is sufficient to cause NASH in mice. (HEPATOLOGY 2013)