Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is characterized by progressive liver injury, inflammation, and fibrosis; however, the mechanisms that govern the transition from hepatic steatosis, which is relatively benign, to NASH remain poorly defined. Neuregulin 4 (Nrg4) is an adipose tissue–enriched endocrine factor that elicits beneficial metabolic effects in obesity. Here, we show that Nrg4 is a key component of an endocrine checkpoint that preserves hepatocyte health and counters diet-induced NASH in mice. Nrg4 deficiency accelerated liver injury, fibrosis, inflammation, and cell death in a mouse model of NASH. In contrast, transgenic expression of Nrg4 in adipose tissue alleviated diet-induced NASH. Nrg4 attenuated hepatocyte death in a cell-autonomous manner by blocking ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation of c-FLIPL, a negative regulator of cell death. Adeno-associated virus–mediated (AAV-mediated) rescue of hepatic c-FLIPL expression in Nrg4-deficent mice functionally restored the brake for steatosis to NASH transition. Thus, hepatic Nrg4 signaling serves as an endocrine checkpoint for steatosis-to-NASH progression by activating a cytoprotective pathway to counter stress-induced liver injury.
Liang Guo, Peng Zhang, Zhimin Chen, Houjun Xia, Siming Li, Yanqiao Zhang, Sune Kobberup, Weiping Zou, Jiandie D. Lin