Spatial molecular and cellular determinants of STAT3 activation in liver fibrosis progression in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Jingjing Jiao, Jessica I. Sanchez, Omar A. Saldarriaga, Luisa M. Solis, David J. Tweardy, Dipen M. Maru, Heather L. Stevenson, Laura Beretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background & Aims: The prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), is increasing. Individuals with NASH often develop liver fibrosis and advanced liver fibrosis is the main determinant of mortality in individuals with NASH. We and others have reported that STAT3 contributes to liver fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma in mice. Methods: Here, we explored whether STAT3 activation in hepatocyte and non-hepatocyte areas, measured by phospho-STAT3 (pSTAT3), is associated with liver fibrosis progression in 133 patients with NAFLD. We further characterized the molecular and cellular determinants of STAT3 activation by integrating spatial distribution and transcriptomic changes in fibrotic NAFLD livers. Results: pSTAT3 scores in non-hepatocyte areas progressively increased with fibrosis severity (r = 0.53, p <0.001). Correlation analyses between pSTAT3 scores and expression of 1,540 immune- and cancer-associated genes revealed a large effect of STAT3 activation on gene expression changes in non-hepatocyte areas and confirmed a major role for STAT3 activation in fibrogenesis. Digital spatial transcriptomic profiling was also performed on 13 regions selected in hepatocyte and non-hepatocyte areas from four NAFLD liver biopsies with advanced fibrosis, using a customized panel of markers including pSTAT3, PanCK+CK8/18, and CD45. The regions were further segmented based on positive or negative pSTAT3 staining. Cell deconvolution analysis revealed that activated STAT3 was enriched in hepatic progenitor cells (HPCs) and sinusoidal endothelial cells. Regression of liver fibrosis upon STAT3 inhibition in mice with NASH resulted in a reduction of HPCs, demonstrating a direct role for STAT3 in HPC expansion. Conclusion: Increased understanding of the spatial dependence of STAT3 signaling in NASH and liver fibrosis progression could lead to novel targeted treatment approaches. Impact and implications: Advanced liver fibrosis is the main determinant of mortality in patients with NASH. This study showed using liver biopsies from 133 patients with NAFLD, that STAT3 activation in non-hepatocyte areas is strongly associated with fibrosis severity, inflammation, and progression to NASH. STAT3 activation was enriched in hepatic progenitor cells (HPCs) and sinusoidal endothelial cells (SECs), as determined by innovative technologies interrogating the spatial distribution of pSTAT3. Finally, STAT3 inhibition in mice resulted in reduced liver fibrosis and depletion of HPCs, suggesting that STAT3 activation in HPCs contributes to their expansion and fibrogenesis in NAFLD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100628
JournalJHEP Reports
Volume5
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Keywords

  • cirrhosis
  • fibrosis
  • liver cancer
  • NAFLD
  • NASH
  • STAT3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology

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