Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a disorder of liver lipid metabolism in which both cholesterol and fat accumulate in liver cells. A significant fraction of patients with NAFLD progress to liver inflammation, necrosis, and progressive liver fibrosis. NAFLD is now recognized as a leading cause of cirrhosis in the U.S. and in the Veteran's population;and, is poised to soon represent the most common indication for liver transplantation. In addition to its progression to end-stage liver disease, it is frequently associated with diabetes (insulin resistance) and cardiovascular disease. The clustering of these clinical phenotypes is now known as Metabolic Syndrome. Current therapeutic approaches for the treatment of NAFLD inclusive of cholesterol and triglyceride lowering agents, insulin sensitizing agents, anti-oxidants, and life-style modifications have not been found effective in reversing NAFLD. No good treatment approach currently exists. A better understanding of the interplay of liver cell cholesterol, fat, glucose, and bile acid metabolism is crucial in order to develop more effective therapies. The liver is central to total body lipid homeostasis. Our laboratory has identified delivery of cholesterol into the cell's mitochondria for oxidation as a crucial step in the regulation of liver lipid metabolism. We have found that increased expression of the mitochondrial cholesterol delivery protein, StARD1, in hepatocytes (liver cells), down-regulates pathways of cholesterol biosynthesis while up-regulating pathways of cholesterol degradation and secretion. Increasing liver StARD1 expression increases cholesterol oxidation via pathways initiated by mitochondrial enzyme, CYP27A1;and, the resulting oxysterol products are regulatory molecules capable of mediating changes in lipid metabolism. Furthermore, bile acids, the end product of the CYP27A1 initiated pathway of cholesterol metabolism, are important regulatory molecules in their own right;capable of mediating cholesterol and fat intestinal absorption and metabolism through activation of an intestinal and liver nuclear receptor, FXR. The objective of this application is to elucidate the role of the StARD1/CYP27A1 pathway of cholesterol oxidation in the regulation of hepatic lipid and glucose homeostasis. The completion of these studies: 1) will determine if increasing intracellular cholesterol degradation into regulatory oxysterols and FXR activating bile acids is capable of reversing fatty liver in 2 NAFL animal models under conditions which closely simulate a typical American lifestyle;2) will be used to pull apart the activation of FXR mediated pathways by bile acids from the effects of increased regulatory oxysterols;3) to search for undiscovered regulatory oxysterols generated by increasing expression of the StARD1/CYP27A1 pathway that contribute to the profound liver lipid lowering noted in the face of a Western diet;4) to search for novel sites of regulation which control intracellular regulatory oxysterol levels;and, 5) to determine in the presence and absence of high fat/cholesterol intestinal content how naturally occurring FXR agonists (i.e bile acids) vs. synthetic FXR agonists may differentially alter hepatic cholesterol, fat, and glucose metabolism in a Cyp27a1 knockout mouse model;a naturally occurring genetic model of fatty liver lacking CYP27A1 generated oxysterols. Based on our preliminary findings, we believe that used in concert increased selective activation of the FXR and regulatory oxysterol activated pathways can be utilized to reverse NAFL, and, likely, atherogenesis. This proposal brings forth basic science discoveries that lead to novel treatment approaches. As outlined in the proposal, these studies have the potential to offer immediate clinical promise for treatment of NAFLD not only in our Veterans population, but in the U.S. population as a whole.

Public Health Relevance

Significance/Relevance to VA Patient Care Misssion Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a disorder of liver lipid homeostasis in which both cholesterol and triglycerides accumulate in hepatocytes;and, in a significant portion of NAFLD patients this hepatic lipid accumulation is associated with progression to liver necrosis, inflammation, and fibrosis. NAFLD, with an estimated incidence of 17-33%, is now recognized as a leading cause of cirrhosis in the Veteran's population and in the U.S.;and is predicted to represent the leading indication for live transplantation. NAFLD is associated with an insulin resistant state and cardiovascular disease. The studies proposed in this application and as supported by the preliminary findings on cholesterol, fat, and glucose metabolism represent novel approaches to more clearly define the regulation of lipid and glucose metabolism in hepatocytes. They are designed with proof of principle approaches intended toward uncovering viable treatment approaches for NAFLD. These studies have the potential to offer immediate promise for the treatment of NAFLD.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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Gastroenterology (GAST)
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VA Veterans Administration Hospital
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