Hepatocyte high-mobility group box 1 protects against steatosis and cellular stress during high fat diet feeding

Minjie Lin, Jungke Long, Wenbo Li, Chenxuan Yang, Patricia Loughran, Robert O’Doherty, Timothy R. Billiar, Meihong Deng*, Melanie J. Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Circulating high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) plays important roles in the pathogenesis of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Intracellular HMGB1 is critical for the biology of hepatocytes. However, the intracellular role of HMGB1 in hepatocellular steatosis is unknown. Therefore, we aimed to investigate the role of hepatocyte-specific HMGB1 (HC-HMGB1) in development of hepatic steatosis. Methods: Wild type (WT) C57BL/6 and HC-HMGB1−/− mice were fed high-fat diet (HFD) or low-fat diet (LFD) for up to 16 weeks. Results: As expected, HMGB1 translocated from nuclear into cytoplasm and released into circulation after HFD treatment. HC-HMGB1 deficiency significantly reduced circulating HMGB1, suggesting that hepatocyte is a major source of circulating HMGB1 during NAFLD. Unexpectedly, HC-HMGB1 deficiency promoted rapid weight gain with enhanced hepatic fat deposition compared with WT at as early as 4 weeks after HFD treatment. Furthermore, there was no difference between WT and HC-HMGB1−/− mice in glucose tolerance, energy expenditure, liver damage or systemic inflammation. Interestingly, hepatic gene expression related to free fatty acid (FFA) β-oxidation was significantly down-regulated in HC-HMGB1−/− mice compared with WT, and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress markers were significantly higher in livers of HC-HMGB1−/− mice. In vitro experiments using primary mouse hepatocytes showed absence of HMGB1 increased FFA-induced intracellular lipid accumulation, accompanied by increased ER-stress, significant downregulation of FFA β-oxidation, and reduced oxidative phosphorylation. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that hepatocyte HMGB1 protects against dysregulated lipid metabolism via maintenance of β-oxidation and prevention of ER stress. This represents a novel mechanism for HMGB1-regulation of hepatocellular steatosis, and suggests that stabilizing HMGB1 in hepatocytes may be effective strategies for prevention and treatment of NAFLD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115
JournalMolecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • ER stress
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Liver injury
  • β-Oxidation


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