Mice lacking the transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) develop more severe nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), with cirrhosis, than wild-type (Nrf2(+/+)) mice when fed a high-fat (HF) diet for 24 weeks. Although NASH is usually associated with insulin resistance, HF-fed Nrf2(-/-) mice exhibited better insulin sensitivity than HF-fed Nrf2(+/+) mice. In livers of HF-fed mice, loss of Nrf2 resulted in greater induction of lipogenic genes, lower expression of β-oxidation genes, greater reduction in AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) levels, and diminished acetyl coenzyme A (CoA) carboxylase phosphorylation than in the wild-type livers, which is consistent with greater fatty acid (FA) synthesis in Nrf2(-/-) livers. Moreover, primary Nrf2(-/-) hepatocytes displayed lower glucose and FA oxidation than Nrf2(+/+) hepatocytes, with FA oxidation partially rescued by treatment with AMPK activators. The unfolded protein response (UPR) was perturbed in control regular-chow (RC)-fed Nrf2(-/-) mouse livers, and this was associated with constitutive activation of NF-κB and JNK, along with upregulation of inflammatory genes. The HF diet elicited an antioxidant response in Nrf2(+/+) livers, and as this was compromised in Nrf2(-/-) livers, they suffered oxidative stress. Therefore, Nrf2 protects against NASH by suppressing lipogenesis, supporting mitochondrial function, increasing the threshold for the UPR and inflammation, and enabling adaptation to HF-diet-induced oxidative stress.
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