Activation of the complement system in human nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

S.S. Rensen*, Y. Slaats, A. Driessen, C.J. Kootstra, J. Nijhuis, R. Steffensen, J.W. Greve, W.A. Buurman

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Activation of the innate immune system plays a major role in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The complement system is an important component of innate immunity that recognizes danger signals such as tissue injury. We aimed to determine whether activation of the complement system occurs in NAFLD, to identify initiating pathways, and to assess the relation between complement activation, NAFLD severity, apoptosis, and inflammatory parameters. Liver biopsies of 43 obese subjects with various degrees of NAFLD and of 10 healthy controls were analyzed for deposition of complement factors C1q, mannose-binding lectin (MBL), C4d, activated C3, and membrane attack complex (MAC)-associated C9. Furthermore, hepatic neutrophil infiltration, apoptosis, and pro-inflammatory cytokine expression were quantified. Whereas complement activation was undetectable in the liver of healthy subjects, 74% of the NAFLD patients showed hepatic deposition of activated C3 and C4d. C1q as well as MBL accumulation was found in most activated C3-positive patients. Strikingly, 50% of activated C3-positive patients also displayed MAC-associated C9 deposition. Deposition of complement factors was predominantly seen around hepatocytes with macrovesicular steatosis. Subjects showing accumulation of activated C3 displayed increased numbers of apoptotic cells. Importantly, hepatic neutrophil infiltration as well as interleukin (IL)-8 and IL-6 expression was significantly higher in patients showing activated C3 deposition, whereas patients with C9 deposition additionally had increased IL-1beta expression. Moreover, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) was more prevalent in patients showing hepatic C9 or activated C3 deposition. Conclusion: There is widespread activation of the complement system in NAFLD, which is associated with disease severity. This may have important implications for the pathogenesis and progression of NAFLD given the function of complement factors in clearance of apoptotic cells, hepatic fibrosis, and liver regeneration. (HEPATOLOGY 2009.).
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1809-1817
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

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