Plasma microRNAs are sensitive indicators of inter-strain differences in the severity of liver injury induced in mice by a choline- and folate-deficient diet


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Abstract

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, conserved, tissue-specific regulatory non-coding RNAs that modulate a variety of biological processes and play a fundamental role in the pathogenesis of major human diseases, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, the association between inter-individual differences in susceptibility to NAFLD and altered miRNA expression is largely unknown. In view of this, the goals of the present study were (i) to determine whether or not individual differences in the extent of NAFLD-induced liver injury are associated with altered miRNA expression, and (ii) assess if circulating blood miRNAs may be used as potential biomarkers for the noninvasive evaluation of the severity of NAFLD. A panel of seven genetically diverse strains of inbred male mice (A/J, C57BL/6J, C3H/HeJ, 129S/SvImJ, CAST/EiJ, PWK/PhJ, and WSB/EiJ) were fed a choline- and folate-deficient (CFD) diet for 12 weeks. This diet induced liver injury in all mouse strains; however, the extent of NAFLD-associated pathomorphological changes in the livers was strain-specific, with A/J, C57BL/6J, and C3H/HeJ mice being the least sensitive and WSB/EiJ mice being the most sensitive. The morphological changes in the livers were accompanied by differences in the levels of hepatic and plasma miRNAs. The levels of circulating miR-34a, miR-122, miR-181a, miR-192, and miR-200b miRNAs were significantly correlated with a severity of NAFLD-specific liver pathomorphological features, with the strongest correlation occurring with miR-34a. These observations suggest that the plasma levels of miRNAs may be used as biomarkers for noninvasive monitoring the extent of NAFLD-associated liver injury and susceptibility to NAFLD.

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