• Open Access

Epigenetic changes play critical role in age-associated dysfunctions of the liver


Nikolai A. Timchenko, Department of Pathology & Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, USA. Tel.: 713 798 1567; fax: 713 798 4161; e-mail: nikolait@bcm.tmc.edu


CCAAT/Enhancer Binding Proteins family proteins are important regulators of liver functions. Here, we show the critical role of C/EBPα-mediated chromatin remodeling in the age-associated dysfunctions of the liver and in the maintenance of physiological homeostasis. Because ph-S193 isoform of C/EBPα is increased in livers of old mice, we have generated C/EBPα-S193D knockin mice, which mimic the ph-S193 isoform of C/EBPα. Analyses of these mice showed that the S193D mutation causes chromatin remodeling leading to histological appearance of ‘foci-like’ nodules, which are also observed in livers of old mice. These ‘foci-like’ structures contain K9 trimethylated histone H3, a marker of heterochromatin. The increase of heterochromatin regions in S193D mice correlates with the elevation of S193D-C/EBPα-HDAC1 complexes and with dys-regulation of gene expression including epigenetic silencing of cyclin D1 and D2 promoters and the inhibition of liver proliferation. The elimination of C/EBPα-HDAC1 complexes in S193D mice by inhibition of HDAC1 corrects chromatin structure and normalizes expression of cyclin D1 and D2. We found that epigenetic dys-regulation is also associated with the elevation of C/EBPβ and with the increase of C/EBPα/β heterodimers in S193D mice. The C/EBPα/β heterodimers activate transcription of Glut4 and increase the levels of Glut4. As the result, S193D livers have accelerated uptake of glucose and accumulation of glycogen in the liver. Thus, this study demonstrates that the phosphorylation of C/EBPα at S193 leads to the appearance of heterochromatin regions, which correlates with the development of age-related dysfunctions of the liver.