AKR1D1 is a novel regulator of metabolic phenotype in human hepatocytes and is dysregulated in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Nikolaos Nikolaou, Laura L. Gathercole, Lea Marchand, Sara Althari, Niall J. Dempster, Charlotte J. Green, Martijn Van De Bunt, Catriona Mcneil, Anastasia Arvaniti, Beverly A. Hughes, Bruno Sgromo, Richard S. Gillies, Hanns-ulrich Marschall, Trevor M. Penning, John Ryan, Wiebke Arlt, Leanne Hodson, Jeremy W. Tomlinson

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Objective: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the hepatic manifestation of metabolic syndrome. Steroid hormones and bile acids are potent regulators of hepatic carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Steroid 5β-reductase (AKR1D1) is highly expressed in human liver where it inactivates steroid hormones and catalyzes a fundamental step in bile acid synthesis.

Methods: Human liver biopsies were obtained from 34 obese patients and AKR1D1 mRNA expression levels were measured using qPCR. Genetic manipulation of AKR1D1 was performed in human HepG2 and Huh7 liver cell lines. Metabolic assessments were made using transcriptome analysis, western blotting, mass spectrometry, clinical biochemistry, and enzyme immunoassays.

Results: In human liver biopsies, AKR1D1 expression decreased with advancing steatosis, fibrosis and inflammation. Expression was decreased in patients with type 2 diabetes. In human liver cell lines, AKR1D1 knockdown decreased primary bile acid biosynthesis and steroid hormone clearance. RNA-sequencing identified disruption of key metabolic pathways, including insulin action and fatty acid metabolism. AKR1D1 knockdown increased hepatocyte triglyceride accumulation, insulin sensitivity, and glycogen synthesis, through increased de novo lipogenesis and decreased β-oxidation, fueling hepatocyte inflammation. Pharmacological manipulation of bile acid receptor activation prevented the induction of lipogenic and carbohydrate genes, suggesting that the observed metabolic phenotype is driven through bile acid rather than steroid hormone availability.

Conclusions: Genetic manipulation of AKR1D1 regulates the metabolic phenotype of human hepatoma cell lines, driving steatosis and inflammation. Taken together, the observation that AKR1D1 mRNA is down-regulated with advancing NAFLD suggests that it may have a crucial role in the pathogenesis and progression of the disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article number153947
Pages (from-to)67-80
Number of pages14
Early online date19 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • 5β-reductase
  • Diabetes
  • Bile acids
  • Triglyceride
  • FXR


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