Fat causes necrosis and inflammation in parenchymal cells in human steatotic liver

E. Wisse*, F. Braet*, G.J. Shami, B. Zapotoczny, C. Vreuls, P. Verhaegh, P. Frederik, P.J. Peters, S.O. Damink, G. Koek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Adapted fixation methods for electron microscopy allowed us to study liver cell fine structure in 217 biopsies of intact human livers over the course of 10 years. The following novel observations and concepts arose: single fat droplets in parenchymal cells can grow to a volume four times larger than the original cell, thereby extremely marginalizing the cytoplasm with all organelles. Necrosis of single parenchymal cells, still containing one huge fat droplet, suggests death by fat in a process of single-cell steatonecrosis. In a later stage of single-cell steatonecrosis, neutrophils and erythrocytes surround the single fat droplet, forming an inflammatory fat follicle indicating the apparent onset of inflammation. Also, fat droplets frequently incorporate masses of filamentous fragments and other material, most probably representing Mallory substance. No other structure or material was found that could possibly represent Mallory bodies. We regularly observe the extrusion of huge fat droplets, traversing the peripheral cytoplasm of parenchymal cells, the Disse space and the endothelium. These fat droplets fill the sinusoid as a sinusoidal lipid embolus. In conclusion, adapted methods of fixation applied to human liver tissue revealed that single, huge fat droplets cause necrosis and inflammation in single parenchymal cells. Fat droplets also collect Mallory substance and give rise to sinusoidal fat emboli. Therefore, degreasing of the liver seems to be an essential therapeutic first step in the self-repairing of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This might directly reduce single-cell steatotic necrosis and inflammation as elements in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis progression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-38
Number of pages12
JournalHistochemistry and Cell Biology
Issue number1
Early online date15 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Parenchymal cell
  • Necrosis
  • Inflammation
  • Fat
  • Human liver
  • Steatosis

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