Accumulating evidence has suggested that farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonists, such as obeticholic acid (OCA) are therapeutically useful for non-Alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). However, it is still unclear how FXR agonists protect against NASH and which cell type is the main target of FXR agonists. In this study, we examined the effects of OCA on the development of NASH using melanocortin 4 receptor-deficient (MC4R-KO) mice that progressively developed hepatic steatosis and NASH on Western diet (WD). Treatment with OCA effectively prevented chronic inflammation and liver fibrosis in WD-fed MC4R-KO mice with only marginal effect on body weight and hepatic steatosis. Hepatic crown-like structure (hCLS) is a unique histological structure characteristic of NASH, which triggers hepatocyte death-induced interstitial fibrosis. Intriguingly, treatment with OCA markedly reduced hCLS formation even after MC4R-KO mice developed NASH, thereby inhibiting the progression of liver fibrosis. As its mechanism of action, OCA suppressed metabolic stress-induced p53 activation and cell death in hepatocytes. Our findings in this study highlight the role of FXR in hepatocytes in the pathogenesis of NASH. Collectively, this study demonstrates the anti-fibrotic effect of OCA in a murine model of NASH with obesity and insulin resistance, which suggests the clinical implication for human NASH.
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