Protective effect of metformin against palmitate-induced hepatic cell death

Yana Geng*, Alejandra Hernández Villanueva, Asmaa Oun, Manon Buist-Homan, Hans Blokzijl, Klaas Nico Faber, Amalia Dolga, Han Moshage

*Corresponding author for this work

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Lipotoxicity causes hepatic cell death and therefore plays an important role in the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Metformin, a first-line anti-diabetic drug, has shown a potential protective effect against NAFLD. However, the underlying mechanism is still not clear. In this study, we aim to understand the molecular mechanism of the protective effect of metformin in NAFLD, focusing on lipotoxicity. Cell death was studied in HepG2 cells and primary rat hepatocytes exposed to palmitate and metformin. Metformin ameliorated palmitate-induced necrosis and apoptosis (decreased caspase-3/7 activity by 52% and 57% respectively) in HepG2 cells. Metformin also reduced palmitate-induced necrosis in primary rat hepatocytes (P < 0.05). The protective effect of metformin is not due to reducing intracellular lipid content or activation of AMPK signaling pathways. Metformin and a low concentration (0.1 μmol/L) of rotenone showed moderate inhibition on mitochondrial respiration indicated by reduced basal and maximal mitochondrial respiration and proton leak in HepG2 cells. Moreover, metformin and rotenone (0.1 μmol/L) preserved mitochondrial membrane potential in both HepG2 cells and primary rat hepatocytes. In addition, metformin and rotenone (0.1 μmol/L) also reduces reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and increase superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2) expression. Our results establish that metformin AMPK-independently protects against PA-induced hepatic cell death by moderate inhibition of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, recovering mitochondrial function, decreasing cellular ROS production, and inducing SOD2 expression, indicating that metformin may have beneficial actions beyond its glucose-lowering effect and also suggests that mitochondrial complex І may be a therapeutic target in NAFLD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number165621
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et biophysica acta-Molecular basis of disease
Issue number3
Early online date28-Nov-2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2020

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