Acetaldehyde, the major active metabolite of alcohol, induces the activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSC), leading to over-production of α1(I) collagen and ultimately causing hepatic fibrosis. The underlying mechanisms of this process remain largely unknown. Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) is a potent inducer of α1(I) collagen production. Accumulating evidence has shown a potential role for TGF-β1 in alcohol-induced hepatic fibrogenesis. The aims of this study were to determine the effect of acetaldehyde on TGF-β signalling, to elucidate the underlying mechanisms as well as to evaluate its role in expression of α1(I) collagen gene in cultured HSC. It was hypothesized that acetaldehyde activated TGF-β signalling by inducing the expression of elements in the TGF-β signal transduction pathway, which might contribute to α1(I) collagen gene expression in cultured HSC. Initial results revealed that acetaldehyde activated TGF-β signalling in cultured HSC. Additional studies demonstrated that acetaldehyde stimulated the secretion and activation of latent TGF-β1, and induced the expression of the type II TGF-β receptor (Tβ-RII). Further experiments found cis- and trans-activating elements responsible for Tβ-RII gene expression induced by acetaldehyde. Activation of TGF-β signalling by acetaldehyde contributed to α1(I) collagen gene expression in cultured HSC. In summary, this report demonstrated that acetaldehyde stimulated TGF-β signalling by increasing the secretion and activation of latent TGF-β1 as well as by inducing the expression of Tβ-RII in cultured HSC. Results from this report provided a novel insight into mechanisms by which acetaldehyde stimulated the expression of α1(I) collagen in HSC and a better understanding of effects of alcohol (or acetaldehyde) on hepatic fibrogenesis.

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