IPC (ischaemic preconditioning) may protect the steatotic liver, which is particularly susceptible to I/R (ischaemia/reperfusion) injury. Hepatic steatosis was induced in Sprague–Dawley rats with a high-cholesterol (2%) diet for 12 weeks after which rats were subjected to I/R (ischaemia/reperfusion; 45 min of lobar ischaemia followed by 2 h of reperfusion). Rats were divided into three study groups (n=6 each) receiving: (i) sham laparotomy alone, (ii) I/R, and (iii) IPC (5 min of ischaemia, followed by 10 min of reperfusion) before I/R. Hepatic extra- and intra-cellular oxygenation and HM (hepatic microcirculation) were measured with near-infrared spectroscopy and laser Doppler flowmetry respectively. Plasma liver enzymes and hepatic tissue ATP were measured as markers of liver injury. Histology showed moderate-grade steatosis in the livers. At the end of 2 h of reperfusion, I/R significantly decreased extra- and intra-cellular oxygenation concomitant with a failure of recovery of HM (21.1±14.4% of baseline; P<0.001 compared with sham animals). IPC increased intracellular oxygenation (redox state of the copper centre of cytochrome oxidase; P<0.05 compared with rats receiving I/R alone) and flow in HM (70.9±17.1% of baseline; P<0.001 compared with rats receiving I/R alone). Hepatocellular injury was significantly reduced with IPC compared with I/R injury alone (alanine aminotransferase, 474.8±122.3 compared with 5436.3±984.7 units/l respectively; P<0.01; aspartate aminotransferase, 630.8±76.9 compared with 3166.3±379.6 units/l respectively; P<0.01]. In conclusion, IPC has a hepatoprotective effect against I/R injury in livers with moderate steatosis. These data may have important clinical implications in liver surgery and transplantation.

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