Altered vitamin A metabolism in human liver slices corresponds to fibrogenesis

Lindsay C. Czuba, Xia Wu, Weize Huang, Nicole Hollingshead, Jessica B. Roberto, Heidi L. Kenerson, Raymond S. Yeung, Ian N. Crispe, Nina Isoherranen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Abstract: All-trans-retinoic acid (atRA), the active metabolite of vitamin A, has antifibrogenic properties in vitro and in animal models. Liver vitamin A homeostasis is maintained by cell-specific enzymatic activities including storage in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), secretion into circulation from hepatocytes, and formation and clearance of atRA. During chronic liver injury, HSC activation is associated with a decrease in liver retinyl esters and retinol concentrations. atRA is synthesized through two enzymatic steps from retinol, but it is unknown if the loss of retinoid stores is associated with changes in atRA formation and which cell types contribute to the metabolic changes. The aim of this study was to determine if the vitamin A metabolic flux is perturbed in acute liver injury, and if changes in atRA concentrations are associated with HSC activation and collagen expression. At basal levels, HSC and Kupffer cells expressed key genes involved in vitamin A metabolism, whereas after acute liver injury, complex changes to the metabolic flux were observed in liver slices. These changes include a reproducible spike in atRA tissue concentrations, decreased retinyl ester and atRA formation rate, and time-dependent changes to the expression of metabolizing enzymes. Kinetic simulations suggested that oxidoreductases are important in determining retinoid metabolic flux after liver injury. These early changes precede HSC activation and upregulation of profibrogenic gene expression, which were inversely correlated with atRA tissue concentrations, suggesting that HSC and Kupffer cells are key cells involved in changes to vitamin A metabolic flux and signaling after liver injury. Study Highlights WHAT IS THE CURRENT KNOWLEDGE ON THE TOPIC? Vitamin A is metabolized in the liver for storage as retinyl esters in hepatic stellate cell (HSCs) or to all-trans-retinoic acid (atRA), an active metabolite with antifibrogenic properties. Following chronic liver injury, vitamin A metabolic flux is perturbed, and HSC activation leads to diminished retinoid stores. WHAT QUESTION DID THIS STUDY ADDRESS? Do changes in the expression of vitamin A metabolizing enzymes explain changes in atRA concentrations and the regulation of fibrosis following acute liver injury? WHAT DOES THIS STUDY ADD TO OUR KNOWLEDGE? In healthy liver, both HSC and Kupffer cells may mediate vitamin A homeostasis. Following acute liver injury, complex changes in metabolizing enzyme expression/activity alter the metabolic flux of retinoids, resulting in a transient peak in atRA concentrations. The atRA concentrations are inversely correlated with profibrogenic gene expression, HSC activation, and collagen deposition. HOW MIGHT THIS CHANGE CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY OR TRANSLATIONAL SCIENCE? Improved understanding of altered vitamin A metabolic flux in acute liver injury may provide insight into cell-specific contributions to vitamin A loss and lead to novel interventions in liver fibrosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)976-989
Number of pages14
JournalClinical and Translational Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Clinical and Translational Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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