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Cell-specific Deletion of NLRP3 Inflammasome Identifies Myeloid Cells as Key Drivers of Liver Inflammation and Fibrosis in Murine Steatohepatitis


Background & aims

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the leading cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. The NLRP3 inflammasome, a platform for caspase-1 activation and release of interleukin 1β, is increasingly recognized in the induction of inflammation and liver fibrosis during NAFLD. However, the cell-specific contribution of NLRP3 inflammasome activation in NAFLD remains unknown.


To investigate the role of NLRP3 inflammasome activation in hepatocytes, hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and myeloid cells, a conditional Nlrp3 knock-out mouse was generated and bred to cell-specific Cre mice. Both acute and chronic liver injury models were used: lipopolysaccharide/adenosine-triphosphate to induce in vivo NLRP3 activation, choline-deficient, L-amino acid-defined high-fat diet, and Western-type diet to induce fibrotic nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In vitro co-culture studies were performed to dissect the crosstalk between myeloid cells and HSCs.


Myeloid-specific deletion of Nlrp3 blunted the systemic and hepatic increase in interleukin 1β induced by lipopolysaccharide/adenosine-triphosphate injection. In the choline-deficient, L-amino acid-defined high-fat diet model of fibrotic NASH, myeloid-specific Nlrp3 knock-out but not hepatocyte- or HSC-specific knock-out mice showed significant reduction in inflammation independent of steatosis development. Moreover, myeloid-specific Nlrp3 knock-out mice showed ameliorated liver fibrosis and decreased HSC activation. These results were validated in the Western-type diet model. In vitro co-cultured studies with human cell lines demonstrated that HSC can be activated by inflammasome stimulation in monocytes, and this effect was significantly reduced if NLRP3 was downregulated in monocytes.


The study provides new insights in the cell-specific role of NLRP3 in liver inflammation and fibrosis. NLRP3 inflammasome activation in myeloid cells was identified as crucial for the progression of NAFLD to fibrotic NASH. These results may have implications for the development of cell-specific strategies for modulation of NLRP3 activation for treatment of fibrotic NASH.

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