1. Center for Human Tissues and Organs Degeneration, Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen 518055, Guangdong, China.
2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.
3. School of Life Sciences, Faculty of Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
4. Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510530, Guangdong, China.
5. NeuMed Pharmaceuticals Limited, Yuen Long, Hong Kong, China.
6. Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
Rationale: Men and postmenopausal women are more prone to developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease/steatohepatitis (NAFLD/NASH) than premenopausal women. However, the pathological links and underlying mechanisms of this disparity are still elusive. The sex-difference in hepatic very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) assembly and secretion may contribute to NAFLD development. Estrogen-related receptor alpha (ERRα) is a key regulator of several metabolic processes. We hypothesized that ERRα plays a role contributing to the sex-difference in hepatic VLDL assembly and secretion.
Methods: VLDL secretion and essential genes governing said process were assessed in male and female mice. Liver-specific ERRα-deficient (ERRαLKO) mice were generated to assess the rate of hepatic VLDL secretion and alteration in target gene expression. Overexpression of either microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (Mttp) or phospholipase A2 G12B (Pla2g12b) by adenovirus was performed to test if the fatty liver phenotype in male ERRαLKO mice was due to defects in hepatic VLDL secretion. Female ERRαLKO mice were put on a diet high in saturated fat, fructose and cholesterol (HFHC) to promote NASH development. Wild type female mice were either ovariectomized or treated with tamoxifen to induce a state of estrogen deficiency or disruption in estrogen signaling. Adenovirus was used to overexpress ERRα in these mice to test if ERRα was sufficient to rescue the suppressed VLDL secretion due to estrogen dysfunction. Finally, wild type male mice on a high-fat diet (HFD) were treated with an ERRα inverse agonist to assess if suppressing ERRα activity pharmacologically would lead to fatty liver development.
Results: ERRα is an indispensable mediator modulating hepatic triglyceride-rich very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL-TG) assembly and secretion through coordinately controlling target genes apolipoprotein B (Apob), Mttp and Pla2g12b in a sex-different manner. Hepatic VLDL-TG secretion is blunted in ERRαLKO mice, leading to hepatosteatosis which exacerbates endoplasmic reticulum stress and inflammation paving ways for NASH development. Importantly, ERRα acts downstream of estrogen/ERα signaling in contributing to the sex-difference in hepatic VLDL secretion effecting hepatic lipid homeostasis.
Conclusions: Our results highlight ERRα as a key mediator which contributes to the sex disparity in NAFLD development, suggesting that selectively restoring ERRα activity in the liver may be a novel strategy for treating NAFLD/NASH.
Keywords: non-alcoholic fatty liver, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, very low-density lipoprotein, estrogen-related receptor alpha, sex disparity