Aim: We recently reported that lipoprotein lipase (LPL)-mediated free cholesterol (FC) accumulation in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) augmented liver fibrosis in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The aim of the present study was to explore the role of angiopoietin-like protein 4 (Angptl4), an LPL inhibitor, in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis in NASH. Methods: Angptl4-deficient or wild-type mice were used to investigate the role of Angptl4 in the pathogenesis of NASH induced by feeding a methionine- and choline-deficient diet. We also examined the effect of Angptl4 on FC accumulation in HSCs, and the subsequent activation of HSCs, using Angptl4-deficient HSCs. Results: In the NASH model, Angptl4-deficient mice had significantly aggravated liver fibrosis and activated HSCs without enhancement of hepatocellular injury, liver inflammation, or liver angiogenesis. FC levels were significantly higher in HSCs from Angptl4-deficient mice than in those from wild-type mice. Treatment with Angptl4 reversed low-density lipoprotein-induced FC accumulation in HSCs through the inhibition of LPL. The Angptl4 deficiency-induced FC accumulation in HSCs suppressed HSC expression of the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-ß) pseudoreceptor, bone morphogenetic protein, and activin membrane-bound inhibitor, and sensitized HSCs to TGF-β-induced activation in vivo and in vitro. Conclusions: Angptl4 plays an important role in the pathogenesis of FC accumulation in HSCs. In addition, regulation of FC levels in HSCs by Angptl4 plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis in NASH. Thus, Angptl4 could represent a novel therapeutic option for NASH.
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