Accumulating evidence suggests that retinol and its metabolites are closely associated with liver fibrogenesis. Recently, we demonstrated that genetic ablation of alcohol dehydrogenase 3 (ADH3), a retinol metabolizing gene that is expressed in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and natural killer (NK) cells, attenuated liver fibrosis in mice. In the current study, we investigated whether pharmacological ablation of ADH3 has therapeutic effects on experimentally induced liver fibrosis in mice.
Methods Liver fibrosis was induced by intraperitoneal injections of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) or bile duct ligation (BDL) for two weeks. To inhibit ADH3-mediated retinol metabolism, 10 mu g 4-methylpyrazole (4-MP)/g of body weight was administered to mice treated with CCl4 or subjected to BDL. The mice were sacrificed at week 2 to evaluate the regression of liver fibrosis. Liver sections were stained for collagen and alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA). In addition, HSCs and NK cells were isolated from control and treated mice livers for molecular and immunological studies.
Treatment with 4-MP attenuated CCl4- and BDL-induced liver fibrosis in mice, without any adverse effects. HSCs from 4-MP treated mice depicted decreased levels of retinoic acids and increased retinol content than HSCs from control mice. In addition, the expression of alpha-SMA, transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1), and type I collagen alpha 1 was significantly reduced in the HSCs of 4-MP treated mice compared to the HSCs from control mice. Furthermore, inhibition of retinol metabolism by 4-MP increased interferon-gamma production in NK cells, resulting in increased apoptosis of activated HSCs.
Based on our data, we conclude that inhibition of retinol metabolism by 4-MP ameliorates liver fibrosis in mice through activation of NK cells and suppression of HSCs. Therefore, retinol and its metabolizing enzyme, ADH3, might be potential targets for therapeutic intervention of liver fibrosis.