Redox imbalance due to the loss of mitochondrial NAD(P)-transhydrogenase markedly aggravates high fat diet-induced fatty liver disease in mice

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The mechanisms by which a high fat diet (HFD) promotes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) appear to involve liver mitochondrial dysfunctions and redox imbalance. We hypothesized that a HFD would increase mitochondrial reliance on NAD(P)-transhydrogenase (NNT) as the source of NADPH for antioxidant systems that counteract NAFLD development. Therefore, we studied HFD-induced liver mitochondrial dysfunctions and NAFLD in C57Unib.B6 congenic mice with (Nnt+/+) or without (Nnt-/-) NNT activity; the spontaneously mutated allele (Nnt-/-) was inherited from the C57BL/6J mouse substrain. After 20 weeks on a HFD, Nnt-/- mice exhibited a higher prevalence of steatohepatitis and content of liver triglycerides compared to Nnt+/+ mice on an identical diet. Under a HFD, the aggravated NAFLD phenotype in the Nnt-/- mice was accompanied by an increased H2O2 release rate from mitochondria, decreased aconitase activity (a redox-sensitive mitochondrial enzyme) and higher susceptibility to Ca2+-induced mitochondrial permeability transition. In addition, HFD led to the phosphorylation (inhibition) of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) and markedly reduced the ability of liver mitochondria to remove peroxide in Nnt-/- mice. Bypass or pharmacological reactivation of PDH by dichloroacetate restored the peroxide removal capability of mitochondria from Nnt-/- mice on a HFD. Noteworthy, compared to mice that were chow-fed, the HFD did not impair peroxide removal nor elicit redox imbalance in mitochondria from Nnt+/+ mice. Therefore, HFD interacted with Nnt mutation to generate PDH inhibition and further suppression of peroxide removal. We conclude that NNT plays a critical role in counteracting mitochondrial redox imbalance, PDH inhibition and advancement of NAFLD in mice fed a HFD. The present study provide seminal experimental evidence that redox imbalance in liver mitochondria potentiates the progression from simple steatosis to steatohepatitis following a HFD.

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