Roughly a quarter of U.S. citizens have steatosis or fat accumulation in their liver cells. The underlying causes of fatty liver (FL) are numerous, but alcohol intake and obesity rank as the most common. Obesity and FL are associated with Metabolic Syndrome (MetSyn) which encompasses a constellation of symptoms indicating that the body has become resistant to the metabolic effects of the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance that develops in the liver as a consequence of obesity is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is characterized by the liver's inability to suppress glucose synthesis and to appropriately synthesize and export lipids. NAFLD leads to hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver cancer in some patients. Our new preliminary data indicate that, in hepatocytes, the insulin receptor (IR) tyrosine kinase crosstalks with the Hepatocyte Growth Factor Receptor (HGFR) tyrosine kinase (also known as Met) through intermolecular tyrosine phosphorylation. We observe that Met and IR interact in the liver and that their direct association is crucial to a proper insulin response. Our data have led us to suggest that, in the absence of Met activity, IR signaling is `sluggish' showing reduced signal output. Taking this concept another step further, we hypothesize that insulin resistance in the liver results at least in part from impaired signaling in the HGF/Met axis. We propose two comprehensive specific aims to test these ideas.
In Aim 1, we will analyze the intermolecular interaction, activation and signaling of Met and IR.
In Aim 2, we will examine the consequences of Met and IR intermolecular interaction in hepatocytic cells and evaluate their combined contribution to hepatic glucose and fatty acid metabolism utilizing a combination of cell culture and transgenic mouse models. We anticipate that data derived from these kinds of experiments will lead us to describe a new paradigm in insulin signal transduction. It is possible that enhancing Met-IR crosstalk through pharmacologic means will improve insulin resistance which is seminal to the NAFLD and MetSyn phenotype.

Public Health Relevance

Fatty liver (FL) is serious health concern affecting about one quarter of adult Americans. FL may cause liver failure, cirrhosis and death. To save a person's life with FL, their liver may need to be transplanted. Fatty liver can be the result of being overweight, having metabolic syndrome as well as consuming too much alcohol. People suffering from FL often do not respond to the hormone insulin. Our studies show that a protein known as Met which interacts with the insulin receptor may be a culprit underlying the liver's inability to respond to insulin. We will study the interaction of Met and insulin receptor to figure out how to make livers more responsive to insulin to reduce the effects of FL.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Project (R01)
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Hepatobiliary Pathophysiology Study Section (HBPP)
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Wang, Joe
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University of Pittsburgh
Schools of Medicine
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Seneviratne, Danushka; Ma, Jihong; Tan, Xinping et al. (2015) Genomic instability causes HGF gene activation in colon cancer cells, promoting their resistance to necroptosis. Gastroenterology 148:181-191.e17
Ma, Jihong; Zou, Chunbin; Guo, Lida et al. (2014) Novel Death Defying Domain in Met entraps the active site of caspase-3 and blocks apoptosis in hepatocytes. Hepatology 59:2010-21
Fafalios, Arlee; Ma, Jihong; Tan, Xinping et al. (2011) A hepatocyte growth factor receptor (Met)-insulin receptor hybrid governs hepatic glucose metabolism. Nat Med 17:1577-84