1. Several growth factors important in liver regeneration and fibrosis stimulate phospholipase D in plasma membranes via a receptor/G-protein-coupled mechanism resulting in hydrolysis of phosphatidylcholine to phosphatidate. Phosphatidate can be further hydrolysed to diacylglycerol by phosphatidate phosphohydrolase. Phosphatidate and diacylglycerol can act as ‘second-messengers’ and regulation of phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity could control the balance between them.

2. A form of phosphatidate phosphohydrolase, located in the plasma membrane and insensitive to inhibition by N-ethylmaleimide, has recently been identified that is distinct from the ‘metabolic’ form, which is present in the cytosol and microsomes and is sensitive to N-ethylmaleimide.

3. We have investigated the hypothesis that the balance between regeneration and fibrosis is, in part, determined by the activity of plasma membrane phosphatidate phosphohydrolase through its effect on the phosphatidate/diacylglycerol ratio. N-Ethylmaleimide-insensitive and -sensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activities were measured in three hepatic conditions characterized by regeneration and/or fibrosis: alcoholic liver disease in humans (regeneration and fibrosis) and rat livers after either acute CCl-4-induced injury (regeneration) or common bile duct ligation (fibrosis).

4. In patients with alcoholic liver disease, N-ethylmaleimide-insensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity was higher in cirrhotic biopsies (5.82±0.3 nmol of Pi min−1 mg−1 of protein, n = 19) than in non-cirrhotic biopsies (2.17 ±0.2, n = 23) or in wedge biopsies from healthy subjects undergoing routine cholecystectomy (2.16 ±0.5, n = 6). N-Ethylmaleimide-insensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity was unchanged in the 10 days after CCl4 treatment but increased progressively in common bile duct-ligated rats (e.g. day 28: ‘sham’ operation, 1.97 ±0.3, chronic bile duct ligation, 6.91 ±1.24 nmol of Pi min−1 mg−1 of protein). N-Ethylmaleimide-insensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity correlated closely with the degree of fibrosis in humans and rats. N-Ethylmaleimide-sensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity was unchanged after CCI4 treatment or common bile duct ligation and was not increased in cirrhotic livers.

5. Plasma membrane N-ethylmaleimide-insensitive phosphatidate phosphohydrolase increases in liver fibrosis but not regeneration. Stimulation of phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activity with its effect on the diacylglycerol/phosphatidate ratio may play a role in transduction of the fibrosis signal.

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