Deletion of nuclear factor-E2-related factor-2 leads to rapid onset and progression of nutritional steatohepatitis in mice.
Oxidative stress is a critical mediator in liver injury of steatohepatitis. The transcription factor Nrf2 serves as a cellular stress sensor and is a key regulator for induction of hepatic detoxification and antioxidative stress systems. The involvement of Nrf2 in defense against the development of steatohepatitis remains unknown. We aimed to investigate the protective roles of Nrf2 in nutritional steatohepatitis using wild-type (WT) and Nrf2 gene-null (Nrf2-null) mice. WT and Nrf2-null mice were fed a methionine- and choline-deficient (MCD) diet for 3 and 6 wk, and the liver tissues were analyzed for pathology and for expression levels of detoxifying enzymes and antioxidative stress genes via the Nrf2 transcriptional pathway. In WT mice fed an MCD diet, Nrf2 was potently activated in the livers, and steatohepatitis did not develop over the observation periods. However, in Nrf2-null mice fed an MCD diet, the pathological state of the steatohepatitis was aggravated in terms of fatty changes, inflammation, fibrosis, and iron accumulation. In the livers of the Nrf2-null mice, oxidative stress was significantly increased compared with that of WT mice based on the increased levels of 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal and malondialdehyde. This change was associated with the decreased levels of glutathione, detoxifying enzymes, catalase, and superoxide dismutase activity. Correlating well with the liver pathology, the mRNA levels of factors involved in fatty acid metabolism, inflammatory cytokines, and fibrogenesis-related genes were significantly increased in the livers of the Nrf2-null mice. These findings demonstrate that Nrf2 deletion in mice leads to rapid onset and progression of nutritional steatohepatitis induced by an MCD diet. Activation of Nrf2 could be a promising target toward developing new options for prevention and treatment of steatohepatitis.