Study sheds light on immune responses driving obesity-induced liver disease

NIH study sheds light on immune responses driving obesity-induced liver disease
The image on the left shows steatosis (fat build-up, red) in the liver of a normal mouse fed a high-fat diet. The right image shows markedly higher steatosis in the liver of a mouse lacking IFN-gamma fed a high-fat diet. Credit: NIAID

New findings from mouse models reveal that the type of immune response that helps maintain healthy metabolism in fatty tissues, called type 2 immunity, also drives obesity-induced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The work, led by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, shows that the inflammatory environment in the fatty liver is more complex than previously thought. These insights may inform the development of new NAFLD treatments as well as immune-altering therapies for obesity and related health issues in people with NAFLD.

NAFLD affects an estimated 64 million people in the United States. Over time, it can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), eventually leading to liver damage and scarring. NAFLD is a leading indication for .

Although the mechanisms regulating NAFLD progression have been unclear, scientists had suspected that the type of that inflames fatty tissues during obesity, known as type 1 immunity, also worsens . Unexpectedly, the NIAID-led team found that engineered to have strong type 1 immune responses were resistant to NASH. This protection was associated with activation of a type 1 immune molecule called IFN-gamma. Obese mice lacking IFN-gamma progressed rapidly to NASH and developed liver scarring.

Further experiments revealed that NASH-induced scarring depends on TGF-beta, a broad immune system regulator and target for experimental NASH therapies, and IL-13, a type 2 molecule produced by various immune cells, including eosinophils. Blocking TGF-beta in mouse models slowed NASH-driven liver scarring, but the number of eosinophils and amount of IL-13 produced in the liver increased to compensate for the lost TGF-beta function. Simultaneously blocking TGF-beta and IL-13 more effectively stopped liver scarring.

Study sheds light on immune responses driving obesity-induced liver disease
Infographic explaining how different types of inflammation are related to obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; Figure 7C, Biopsy samples from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients showing immune cell infiltration (arrows). Credit: Carla Schaffer / K.M. Hart et al. / AAAS

To determine whether these findings may be relevant to human disease, the scientists examined liver biopsies from people with NASH. As in mice, the researchers observed evidence of type 2 inflammation and accumulation of eosinophils.

The researchers next plan to use mouse models to assess the specific roles of eosinophils in the liver and to study ways to specifically block the IL-13 and TGF-beta cell-signaling that leads to liver scarring.

Explore further

Family of patients with NAFLD and cirrhosis are at increased risk of liver fibrosis

More information: K.M. Hart el al., "Type 2 immunity is protective in metabolic disease but exacerbates NAFLD collaboratively with TGF-β," Science Translational Medicine (2017). … scitranslmed.aal3694
Journal information: Science Translational Medicine

Citation: Study sheds light on immune responses driving obesity-induced liver disease (2017, June 28) retrieved 28 October 2020 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments