• Apoptosis;
  • TUNEL;
  • Caspase Inhibitor

Background: The mechanisms of liver sensitization by alcohol to Gram-negative bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) remain elusive. The purpose of this study was two-fold: (1) to test the hypothesis that alcohol-enhanced liver apoptosis may be a sensitizing mechanism for LPS and (2) to further characterize the liver apoptotic response to alcohol.

Methods: Rats were fed a high-fat, alcohol-containing liquid diet for 14 weeks, treated with LPS (1.0 mg/kg of body weight, intravenously) or saline, followed by injection of a pan-caspase inhibitor {IDN1965;N-[(1,3-dimethylindole-2-carbonyl)-valinyl]-3-amino-4-oxo-5-fluoropentanoic acid; 10 mg/kg of body weight, intraperitoneally} or vehicle, and killed. The following parameters were assessed: plasma aspartate: 2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase activity (AST); liver histology and terminal deoxyribonucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) response; caspase-3, −8, and −9 activity; and mRNA and protein expression for two apoptosis-signaling molecules: Fas receptor and Fas ligand; and three apoptosis adaptors: Bax, Bcl-XL, and Bcl-2.

Results: Alcohol-feeding-induced liver steatosis, slightly increased caspases’ activity, the number of TUNEL-positive nuclei, and facilitated the LPS necrotic effect without affecting mRNA expression of apoptosis signals and adaptors. LPS induced a significant increase in AST and the number of TUNEL-positive nuclei, both effects being more pronounced in alcohol-treated rats. LPS produced hepatic necrosis only in alcohol-treated rats. LPS effects were associated with up-regulation of mRNA expression for both apoptosis adaptors and signaling molecules. IDN1965 administration 3 hr after LPS injection strongly inhibited caspases’ activity, particularly that of caspase-3. IDN1965 also abolished the increase in TUNEL-positive nuclei, reversed the effect of LPS on plasma AST in alcohol-treated rats, and prevented LPS-induced necrosis.

Conclusions: (1) Alcohol-enhanced liver apoptosis may not involve regulatory steps at the transcriptional level. LPS-induced liver apoptosis seems to involve transcriptional regulation of several apoptosis adaptors. Therefore, alcohol and LPS may enhance liver apoptosis through different mechanisms. (2) Alcohol-enhanced liver apoptosis precedes and may facilitate the hepatic effects of LPS. LPS superimposed on alcohol further elevates the rate of apoptosis in the liver. This may exceed the phagocytosing capacity of the liver so that all the apoptotic cells are not phagocytosed, but rather die of necrosis.