Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency: from genoma to liver disease. PiZ mouse as model for the development of liver pathology in human

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Background & Aims:

Homozygous individuals with alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) type PiZ have an increased risk of chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It is noteworthy that HCCs are composed by hepatocytes without accumulation of AAT, but the reason for this remains unclear. The aim of this study was to determine liver pathology in PiZ mice, focusing the attention on the distribution of AAT globules in normal liver, regenerative foci and neoplastic nodules.


Liver of 79 PiZ mice and 18 wild type (Wt) was histologically analysed for steatosis, clear cell foci, hyperplasia and neoplasia. The expression of human-AAT transgene and murine AAT, in non-neoplastic liver and in hyperplastic/neoplastic nodules was tested by qPCR and qRT-PCR. RT-PCR was used to study expression of hepatic markers: albumin, α-foetoprotein, transthyretin, AAT, glucose-6-phospate, tyrosine aminotransferase.


Liver pathology was seen more frequently in PiZ (47/79) than in Wt (5/18) and its development was age related. In older PiZ mice (18–24 m), livers showed malignant tumours (HCC and angiosarcoma) (17/50), hyperplastic nodules (28/50), non-specific changes (33/50), whereas only 9/50 were normal. Both human-AATZ DNA and mRNA showed no differences between tumours/nodules and normal liver, while murine-AAT mRNA was reduced in tumours/nodules.


Accumulation of AAT is associated with an increased risk of liver nodules. The presence of globule-devoid hepatocytes and the reduced expression of murine-AAT mRNA in hyperplastic and neoplastic nodules suggest that these hepatic lesions in AATD could originate from proliferating dedifferentiated cells, lacking AAT storage and becoming capable of AFP re-expression.

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