Background & Aims: Chronic alcohol drinking accelerates liver fibrosis in patients with viral hepatitis that cannot be fully explained by ethanol-enhanced liver damage. Here, we identified a novel mechanism by which alcohol accelerates liver fibrosis: inhibition of the antifibrotic effects of natural killer (NK) cells and interferon-γ (IFN-γ). Methods: Alcohol administration was achieved by feeding mice with a liquid diet containing 5% ethanol for 8 weeks. Liver fibrosis was induced by administration of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) for 2 weeks. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) were also isolated and cultured for in vitro studies. Results: CCl4 treatment induced greater fibrosis and less apoptosis of HSCs in ethanol-fed mice compared with pair-fed mice. Polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (Poly I:C) or IFN-γ treatment inhibited liver fibrosis in pair-fed but not in ethanol-fed mice. Poly I:C activation of NK cell cytotoxicity against HSCs was attenuated in ethanol-fed mice compared with pair-fed mice, which was due to reduced natural killer group 2 member D (NKG2D), tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand, and IFN-γ expression on NK cells from ethanol-fed mice. In vitro, HSCs from ethanol-fed mice were resistant to IFN-γ-induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis compared with pair-fed mice. Such resistance was due to diminished IFN-γ activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1) in HSCs from ethanol-fed mice caused by the induction of suppressors of cytokine signaling proteins and the production of oxidative stress. Finally, HSCs from ethanol-fed mice were resistant to NK cell killing, which can be reversed by transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) neutralizing antibody. Conclusions: Chronic ethanol consumption attenuates the antifibrotic effects of NK/IFN-γ/STAT1 in the liver, representing new and different therapeutic targets with which to treat alcoholic liver fibrosis.
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