Background/Aims: High-fat dietary intake and low physical activity lead to insulin resistance, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Recent studies have shown an effect of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) on hepatic glucose metabolism, although GLP-1 receptors (GLP-1r) have not been found in human livers. The aim of this study was to investigate the presence of hepatic GLP-1r and the effect of exenatide, a GLP-1 analogue, on hepatic signalling.
Methods: The expression of GLP-1r was evaluated in human liver biopsies and in the livers of high-fat diet-treated rats. The effect of exenatide (100 nM) was evaluated in hepatic cells of rats fed 3 months with the high-fat diet.
Results: GLP-1r is expressed in human hepatocytes, although reduced in patients with NASH. Similarly, in rats with NASH resulted from 3 months of the high-fat diet, we found a decreased expression of GLP-1r and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ), and reduced peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα) activity. Incubation of hepatocytes with exenatide increased PPARγ expression, which also exerted an insulin-sensitizing action by reducing JNK phosphorylation. Moreover, exenatide increased protein kinase A (PKA) activity, Akt and AMPK phosphorylation and determined a PKA-dependent increase of PPARα activity.
Conclusions: GLP-1 has a direct effect on hepatocytes, by activating genes involved in fatty acid β-oxidation and insulin sensitivity. GLP-1 analogues could be a promising treatment approach to improve hepatic insulin resistance in patients with NAFLD/NASH.